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NIAID Program for Minorities a Success

Recently, NIAID's Office of Special Emphasis Programs launched the Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO) program, which seeks to encourage committed and bright underrepresented minority students to consider pursuing careers in allergy, immunology and infectious diseases.

NIAID brought together a dozen rising young scientists to see first-hand the inner workings of the institute and its current research endeavors. Undergraduates and first-year graduates were selected to participate in the program based on their overall academic record, their interest in NIAID research and its mission and their desire to come to NIH to conduct research. They came from colleges and universities across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to glimpse a possible future as a researcher.

The 3-day program focused on the breadth of research conducted at NIAID and included scientific lectures by intramural researchers, discussions with scientists and tours of the laboratories in the Research Technology Branch and the Vaccine Research Center. Students also discussed training opportunities with scientists who conduct research in Rockville and the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont.

The program began with a talk by Dr. John La Montagne, deputy director of NIAID. He spoke of NIAID's goals and mission for the 21st century and some of the exciting research accomplishments that have been made recently. He also spoke of the importance of biomedical research, reminding the budding scientists that "the work we are doing is important for humanity."

Dr. Owen Schwartz (seated), head of the NIAID biological imaging facility, demonstrates the confocal microscope to visiting students participating in the Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities program. The students are from Syracuse University, the University of the Virgin Islands, Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and the University of Maryland.

Dr. Karyl Barron, deputy director of the Division of Intramural Research, discussed some of the focus areas for the institute, including groundbreaking advances in HIV research, biodefense initiatives and other infectious disease studies. She went on to describe unique training opportunities available to INRO participants in the intramural division.

The program also featured current post-baccalaureate and postdoctoral minority trainees. Several trainees gave presentations of their current, and in some cases, award-winning research. Many participated in the entire program, introducing speakers, describing their own experiences and answering questions.

The multi-tiered program was the vision of Dr. Wendy Fibison, associate director of the special emphasis office. Her goal was to develop a program that would not only capture the interest of underrepresented minorities, but also would open the door for these promising young researchers and foster a collaborative relationship with NIAID. Fibison believes that as we "focus our attention on training, mentoring and nurturing these individuals, we will see many of them seek a professional life within our institute."

Scientific director Dr. Thomas Kindt strongly endorsed the program and encouraged the entire intramural division to support it. Every lab participated in the effort to ensure its success — from giving presentations to contacting universities to participating on the selection committee.

Already, INRO 2003 is on its way to achieving its goals. The program has led to summer internships at the institute for more than half of the participants. Several are also returning for post-baccalaureate experiences.

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