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NIH Record NIAID Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Student Program

By Ann London

The student from Southern California complained about the "cold" weather, while NIAID staff marveled at how warm the 50 degree temperature was for February. The staff who welcomed students to the institute's annual Introduction to Biomedical Research Program (IBRP) were bemused by the student's comments, recalling horror stories of blizzards and ice storms during the past 20 years of the February program.

In February 1979, the first group of students came to the NIH campus to attend a 2-day Introduction to Biomedical Research seminar, part of the NIAID Minority Biomedical Sciences Program. For the past 20 years, the IBRP has hosted more than 1,000 students from colleges and universities all over the United States and its territories.

Dr. Katherine Cook Jaouni (c) talks with a group of students at the first Introduction to Biomedical Research seminar in February 1979.

Most participants have been college undergraduates, a few have been first- or second-year medical or graduate school students. Most have been "traditional" students — they are single and have completed high school, college and graduate or medical school without any breaks. More recently, however, several have been "nontraditional" students. Some are married and have children. Some entered or re-entered college in their 30's or 40's. Whether traditional or nontraditional, all have had several things in common: they are highly motivated, academically successful students with an interest in science.

Of the people who "graduated" during the first 8 years of the program for whom followup data are available, 64 percent have gone on to receive advanced degrees, most often an M.D. or Ph.D. In his welcoming remarks at this year's IBRP reception, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci told the students, "I am immensely proud of the IBRP and of the many successful biomedical scientists and physician researchers who have attended the program during the past 20 years."

NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci (l) meets with Alex Huang and Lorna Graham at the IBRP reception.

The idea for the IBRP was conceived in 1978, when NIAID had only one Black scientist on its staff. The NIAID EEO advisory committee and the NIAID Black caucus advised Dr. Richard M. Krause, then NIAID director, that the institute needed to address the serious issue of the lack of Black scientists. Krause, now senior scientific advisor at the Fogarty International Center, appointed an outside advisory committee to recommend ways to increase the number of Black scientists in NIAID and to bring Black scientists into the postdoctoral programs. The committee not only recommended ways to accomplish that task but also advised Krause to develop a program to interest science students from historically Black colleges and universities in biomedical research. As envisioned, the latter effort would create a continuing pool of African-American scientists qualified to do research at NIAID.

During that time, Vincent A. Thomas, assistant director for SBIR programs and division operations in NIAID's Division of Extramural Activities, was the institute's EEO manager. He helped get the program started with the full support of Krause and NIAID's scientific director, the late Dr. Kenneth W. Sell. Thomas continued to manage the program throughout its early years.

Sell strongly supported the program and encouraged lab chiefs and other NIAID scientists to participate as mentors to the students. He was joined in this endeavor most notably by Drs. Richard Asofsky, associate director for special emphasis programs in the NIAID Division of Intramural Research, who continues to work with the program, and Katherine Cook Jaouni, who is retired. Dr. Milton J. Hernandez, director of NIAID's Office of Special Populations and Research Training, and Joyce Hunter Woodford of that office now direct the program.

IBRP codirector Dr. Milton Hernandez (c) shares some advice with students Carlos Rivera-Palliza and Christina Martinez-Smith at the anniversary reception.

Over the years, the IBRP has grown from a 2-day seminar to the present 4-day program. The annual number of students has increased from 50 to 60. Participants attend seminars on topics such as the immune system, allergic diseases, antiviral drugs, prions, vaccines and AIDS. They also talk one-on-one with scientists about their research in NIAID labs, and receive information about intramural research training and opportunities at NIH.

Since becoming institute director, Fauci has given the program his wholehearted support, and praises Krause as being "a visionary for instituting a program that is one of the most successful at NIAID."

Dr. Richard Asofsky (r) shares a point with student Joseph Dimas.

Former NIAID director Dr. Richard Krause, now at FIC, talks with student Rashida Dorsey.

This year's banquet speaker was Dr. Roland A. Owens, senior investigator in NIDDK's Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology. He shared his experiences on his way to becoming one of the few tenured African-American scientists at NIH, offering invaluable first-hand advice.

Lorna Graham is the student from Southern California who was not enjoying the cool temperatures. At "thirty-something" and with a 10-year-old daughter, Graham is a nontraditional student. She attends California State University at Dominguez Hills full time, works two jobs, and cares for her daughter. Graham plans to attend medical school and is as full of fresh excitement and enthusiasm as the younger students in the program. She says that her visit to NIH opened up new areas of biomedical research for her to explore. She hopes to return to NIH as a summer intern, a step that will help her achieve her ultimate goal of becoming an NIH clinical researcher.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the program, the institute invited IBRP graduates to attend and share their experiences with this year's participants. Dr. Anna Ramsey-Ewing, a graduate of the 1985 program, returned to NIAID as a student volunteer with Dr. David Margulies in the Laboratory of Immunology. In 1991, she accepted a position as a research fellow with Dr. Bernard Moss in the Laboratory of Viral Diseases. She recently traded her lab bench for a desk in the institute's extramural division, where she is a microbiologist/health science administrator. Although she misses the excitement of doing laboratory experiments, Ramsey-Ewing prefers administration because of the "global view and awareness of policy and procedures" that it affords.

Dr. Robert M. Chanock (l), chief of NIAID's Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, interviews a student during the first seminar.

Dr. Oto Martinez-Maza, a member of the class of '79 and current grantee, is soon to be elevated to a full faculty position in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School. In addressing the students, Ramsey-Ewing and Martinez-Maza stressed the important role IBRP played in helping them focus on a career in research and its contribution to the success they have found in their careers. Both volunteered to be resources to the students as they map out their post-baccalaureate education plans.

Given the length of time needed to carve out a career in the sciences, NIAID is hopeful that it has a potential Nobel laureate waiting in the wings.

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