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NIGMS Anniversaries Marked at Minority Student Meeting

By Jilliene Mitchell

For many undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members, the second annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students provided an opportunity to learn new and exciting information and to showcase their research. The meeting also marked two milestones — the 40th anniversary of NIGMS and the 30th anniversary of its Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) and Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) programs.

The conference, held recently in New Orleans, brought together participants from NIGMS' Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE), academic administrators, grant officials and other members of the scientific community to hear research presentations; attend professional development workshops, poster sessions and exhibits; and network with each other. The events included a panel discussion by two Nobel laureates and a scientist who has been described as a potential laureate. Dr. Thomas R. Cech of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Dr. Alfred G. Gilman of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas discussed their Nobel-winning research and encouraged students to pursue research opportunities. Dr. Erich Jarvis of Duke University, who participated in the MARC and MBRS programs as an undergraduate student at the City University of New York, Hunter College, and as a predoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University, described his research on vocal learning in birds. Jarvis' honors include the Waterman Award in 2002. This is the highest honor for young investigators given by the National Science Foundation.

On hand at the meeting in New Orleans are (from l) former Ohio Congressman Louis Stokes, retired NIGMS program director Dr. Charles Miller, and senior advisor to the NIH director Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein, who were the first recipients of the Dr. Geraldine Pittman Woods Award for their roles in the creation and development of the MARC and MBRS programs.

Alumni of the MARC and MBRS programs participated in another panel discussion, this one focused on their career paths and scientific accomplishments.

One of the panelists, Dr. Michael Anderson of Johns Hopkins University, stressed the importance of having a mentor and emphasized that this was the most critical factor in helping him achieve his career goals. He urged students to find mentors who have their best interests at heart and told the students that mentors "don't necessarily have to look like you" to do this.

The anniversary activities concluded with a banquet that featured a keynote address by former Rep. Louis Stokes, a strong supporter of the MARC and MBRS programs during his tenure as a congressman from Ohio. He noted the importance of honoring the efforts of the individuals who helped create these programs. Stokes commended the hard work of the late Dr. Geraldine Pittman Woods, who played a pivotal role in the development of several NIH minority programs, particularly MARC and MBRS.

Stokes also urged students to help others in need. He encouraged the students to remember that, as far back as 30 years ago when the MARC and MBRS programs were developed, people were working to help underrepresented minority students pursue biomedical research careers.

"You have the same obligation...to not only achieve your career and do it with excellence, but also at the proper point to reach back and help pull someone else up," he said.

Dr. Marian Johnson-Thompson, director of education and biomedical research development at NIEHS, paid further tribute to Woods, who was her mentor.

Dr. Clifton Poodry, director of the MORE Division, noted, "If it weren't for the efforts of Dr. Woods and her colleagues, NIGMS' minority programs wouldn't be the success that they are today. I am proud we could honor such important individuals as we mark the 30th anniversary of MARC and MBRS."

Students listen and take notes at a plenary session.

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