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Federal grant boosts MU biomedical diversity program

MU received a major federal grant Thursday to continue the diversity program in the biomedical science departments.

The National Institutes of Health awarded a $1.1 million training grant to the university's Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program, known as PREP. The program recruits minority undergraduates with high potential and helps prepare them for doctoral programs. Those students take graduate classes and work with faculty mentors to enhance their academic portfolios and scientific knowledge. Patricka Williams- Simon is a 2013-2014 scholar. She said the program has given her the opportunity to earn a PhD in neuroscience.

   "Our resumes are now builded (built). We have experience. We have greater research experience. We have greater journal club experience," she said.  "So I don't just think it's a good idea, but I think it's a great idea to continue the program."

Williams-Simon said she believes she can not only get into to grad school, but enroll in the program of her choice.  

Program mentor and co-director Michael Garcia said the grant validates the program's efforts to increase diversity and inclusion at MU, an issue near and dear to his heart as a Hispanic man with a PhD.

"This is one method of validation, and we're lucky to have several programs on campus that are currently funded," Garcia said. "And that says a lot in this day and age with NIH cutbacks and these sort of things. So we're very proud and honored that NIH believes we're doing a good job."

He says 89 percent of their scholars are in or have completed graduate programs, and they're finishing those degrees about a year faster than the national average. Garcia says they are mandated by the funding agency to have certain program components, but they try to alter the program based on feedback from former students. PREP has trained 28 students at MU over the last decade. The program supports seven post-baccalaureate students per year. The new grant will fund the program for another four years.