Current Research
We propose a comprehensive strategy to provide students with an authentic research experience early in their academic careers while creating a rigorous, but supportive learning community that fosters academic success.

The UCLA/Howard Hughes Medical Institute Pathways to Success program is a comprehensive strategy to provide students with an authentic research experience early in their academic careers while creating a rigorous, but supportive learning community that fosters academic success.  The program has three key components:  A research-based laboratory course (The Collaborative Undergraduate Research Lab [CURL]), a mentoring network that integrates peer and hierarchical mentoring (the Pathways Mentor Network), and intensive learning communities (Academic Achievement Workshops) aimed at providing rigorous academic enrichment in core introductory courses.

UCLA is located in one of the most diverse cities in the country and attracts exceptional students.  Nonetheless, retention of students in STEM, particularly underrepresented minority students, remains a significant challenge. The UCLA/HHMI Pathways program leverages an extensive body of data on best practices for persistence and success for students in STEM.  Approximately 20-25 students will be selected each summer to participate in the UCLA/HHMI Pathways program.  Particular emphasis will be placed on recruitment of students from specific schools with significant URM students who matriculate to UCLA. Assessment will be carried out in collaboration with the UCLA Center for Educational Assessment.

My research program focuses on understanding the mechanism of pre-mRNA splicing.  This reaction is carried out by the spliceosome, a dynamic macromolecular machine with intricately connected, moving parts. We have utilized the genetically and biochemically tractable model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae to uncover insights into the splicing reaction. This expertise will serve as the basis for the CURL. In their first year, students will perform genetic screens to identify suppressors of mutations in critical classes of splicing regulators and begin characterizing these mutants. In the second quarter, they will have the opportunity to perform genome-wide analyses of RNA to determine the effect that these mutants have on RNA splicing and expression. Using data integration and analysis tools, students will connect their findings to develop testable models. This course, which forms the capstone of the program, allows students to engage in a collaborative research project, generating primary, publishable data.

Students will also participate in Treisman-modeled workshops (Academic Achievement Workshops) to augment the core chemistry curriculum, which drives many students from STEM even before they've experienced their first biology course. We anticipate expanding the workshops to include more advanced chemistry in the second year. Entering students will also be part of a structured mentoring network, which will include selected graduate students and postdocs, to provide academic and social support as they acclimatize to UCLA. After their first year, the mentees will themselves become mentors to incoming students, and all mentors will participate in training activities such as Entering Mentoring. 

At the end of their first year, students will be placed in research labs but will remain connected with the Pathways program through mentoring and an annual research symposium. Additionally, we are working with HHMI professor Utpal Banerjee to transition Pathways students into the Biomedical Research Minor, which has been an outstanding mechanism for engaging students in research and increasing persistence.

I am confident that the UCLA/HHMI Pathways program is scalable and can be replicated, with modifications that are informed by assessment, to meet the needs of different institutions or instructors. I have begun to establish collaborations with faculty at other institutions to pilot the program, including colleagues at primarily undergraduate and minority serving institutions.

As of January 2015

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