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2023 HERS Main Photo 4

The Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC) is actively addressing the underrepresentation of minority researchers and healthcare professionals. Our training curriculum is strategically designed to attract and equip prospective researchers, guiding them from their undergraduate years through postdoctoral fellowships. This process establishes a continuous stream of dedicated researchers committed to achieving health equity. As we prepare to bid farewell to the summer season, we're delighted to provide a recap of some of our summer training initiatives.

The MHERC has been fostering inclusivity and excellence through its impactful summer training initiatives. The Short-Term Research Experience Program to Unlock Potential (STEP-UP), has been a cornerstone of the MHERC's efforts for several years. This 10-week biomedical research experience, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), is designed for underrepresented undergraduate students. The program strategically pairs students with seasoned research mentors, nurturing a pipeline of biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social science research. These efforts are specifically channeled towards addressing diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases and nutrition; kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. This summer, 21 students were engaged in this enriching program. 

Another legacy program that stands tall is the Cancer Research Immersion Student Program (CRISP), an intensive eight weeks of training. This collaborative endeavor introduces undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to cancer research and includes studies on cancer disparities. The program merges training, mentorship, and coursework to equip CRISP participants with robust foundations for pursuing advanced degrees in cancer research. It is funded by National Cancer Institute through the Cancer Partnership of Morehouse School of Medicine, Tuskegee University and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. The goal is to cultivate independent investigators who can significantly contribute to the field and, in turn, reduce cancer health disparities in the Deep South. This summer witnessed the involvement of 11 dedicated scholars, each contributing to the program's success. 

A new impactful key training program is the Research in Aging through Mentorship and Practice – Undergraduate Program (RAMP-UP) funded by National Institute on Aging. This intensive three-year program provides an annual mentored research experience for undergraduate
students in Alabama that includes eight weeks of in-person research with additional learning opportunities throughout the academic year. Trainees are accepted as rising sophomores and continue participation through their senior year. RAMP-UP offers a series of activities that revolve around mentored research experiences and education related to senior adults, aging, and research concerning health disparities. The program specifically targets underrepresented students in MSTEM fields, strengthening their experience with structured career guidance. This guidance enhances the likelihood of these students completing graduate studies and venturing into the research realm. A total of 19 students participated in this year’s program. IMG 0647

One participant from this summer's RAMP-UP program is Megan Woods, a sophomore pursuing a major in Biology and Spanish at Oakwood University in Huntsville. Megan is actively engaged in the Richardson Neuroscience Lab and collaborates with the Vanterpool research group at her university. During the program, Megan focused on a research project titled "The Do's of Early Discharge," which delved into the implementation of an accountable care team to streamline early discharge procedures. The project aimed to demonstrate the impact of early discharge on hospital throughput enhancement and the reduction of emergency department boarding. 

Participating students in RAMP-UP have the flexibility of selecting their research topics and mentors. Megan shares her excitement upon learning about her mentor,  stating, "I distinctly remember my excitement when I received the email confirming Dr. Kennedy as my mentor." Dr. Kierstin Cates Kennedy, MD, MSHA FACP SFHM, serves as a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and holds the role of Chief Medical Officer at UAB hospital. Megan's anticipation for the summer ahead led her to proactively learn about Dr. Kennedy to prepare for the experience.

The mentored research experience component of the program serves to expand the mentees' horizons and nurture their skills as researchers. Megan reflects on her journey, expressing, "Dr. Kennedy and I maintained regular communication, cultivating a strong relationship. She extended opportunities for me to attend meetings and quickly involved me in various tasks. Her confidence in me empowered me to undertake projects I initially thought were beyond my scope."

As a first-year participant in the RAMP-UP program, Megan's perspective was profoundly transformed. She shares, "My experience has changed me. I've developed a deep appreciation for research beyond the laboratory, especially its direct impact on patient care. I've also discovered a newfound passion for hospital administration that I might not have encountered otherwise." Through mentorship and guidance, RAMP-UP participants conclude the program with a rekindled enthusiasm for advancing health equity. 

As we reflect on the successes of the recent summer training programs and the positive impact they've had on participants, we look forward to the forthcoming years with great anticipation. By continuing to provide transformative experiences that empower diverse minds, MHERC is actively shaping the next generation of researchers, clinicians, and advocates who will propel the field of healthcare towards a more inclusive and equitable future.