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Vol. LIX, No. 20
October 5, 2007

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Minority Scholars Present at Scientific Meeting

  Amy Li, a high school senior from California, gives a presentation in Natcher auditorium.  
  Amy Li, a high school senior from California, gives a presentation in Natcher auditorium.  
A mix of emotions engulfed 18-year-old Jonathan Black as he mounted the stage at Natcher auditorium recently to present the results of research he conducted this summer as part of NIH's STEP-UP program for high school juniors and seniors from minority populations.

"I was excited to show off what I had learned," said Black, a high school senior from Los Angeles, "but I was also a bit intimidated going in front of so many scientists who will be your peers, and in a place with so much science history."

From the same stage where Nobel laureates have presented their findings, Black and 89 other future science superstars presented and defended projects such as "Sexual Dysfunction As a Cause of Depression in Diabetics," "TRPV1 and TRPA1," "Optical Imaging of Tumor-targeted Natural Killer Cells" and more, in front of a panel of senior NIH scientists.

"This is no typical high school science project. This is cutting-edge research conducted at some of the nation's most prestigious institutions in which these students played a serious and substantive role," said Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, director of minority health research coordination at NIDDK, which coordinates the STEP-UP program at NIH. "It is inspiring to see their dedication."

For 8 to 10 weeks, the Short Term Education Program for Under-represented Persons provides mentored research opportunities at 26 research centers in 17 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The goal is to increase the number of ethnic minorities involved in biomedical research.

Dr. Eric Green (l), NHGRI scientific director and founding NISC director, and Robert Blakesley, director of the NISC sequencing group, are pictured in the state-of-the-art sequencing laboratory.
Supporting the STEP-UP program are NCMHD director Dr. John Ruffin (l), NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers (r) and Dr. Lawrence Agodoa (rear), who is director of minority health research coordination at NIDDK.

"They are our future," said NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers. "There aren't enough minority scientists in the biomedical research enterprise to ask the relevant questions and to be front and center in leading the effort to eliminate health disparities."

The program is 12 years old and the results have been impressive. Of the approximately 500 students who have taken part, nearly 80 percent have attended or finished college and 90 percent of those who have completed college have gone into biomedical careers.

While NIDDK directs STEP-UP in collaboration with Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Hawaii, the program was initiated by Dr. John Ruffin, director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Agodoa and Dr. Phillip Gorden, former director of NIDDK, in collaboration with Howard University.

Ruffin says the program's success is like a dream come true. "It's gratifying to see what can happen when vision is matched with superb leadership and resources," he said. Ruffin told the young scholars, "When I was your age, I didn't even know there was an NIH. Now you are part of the NIH. We trust you will take full advantage of this opportunity." NIH Record Icon

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