|Five students from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands participated in the 2011 NIDDK Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons, the first time students from CNMI have taken part in the program. The students are (from l) Genevieve Gottwald, Richeena Farrell, Chasy Amado, Claudette San Nicolas and Mariah Barcinas.
One by one, dressed in stiff white lab coats, they took their place at the lectern in the Natcher Conference Center lecture room. One by one, they presented their summer research studies to their peers from around the U.S. and two scientist “judges.”
After traveling nearly 8,000 miles, five high school students from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) took their first big step toward pursuing careers in science. At the same time, they inaugurated the first year of the NIDDK Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) high school section’s expansion to the CNMI, a set of islands in the Pacific north of Guam.
“With STEP-UP, we seek to provide opportunities for students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. Students from the Northern Mariana Islands deserve the chance to develop their scientific skills and, hopefully, develop a love for research, just as their peers from the rest of the United States do,” said Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, director of NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, which sponsors the programs. “Their participation helps bring to fruition our goal to provide opportunities to do cutting-edge research to people who otherwise might not have exposure to the scientific process in action.”
STEP-UP is designed to provide short-term research education for high school students from racial and ethnic minority, disabled or disadvantaged backgrounds. Students receive financial support during the summer for 8 to 10 weeks of basic or clinical research education and training from faculty active in research related to NIDDK’s mission. This year, some students were aided by Recovery Act funds.
Chasy Amado, an incoming freshman at the University of Guam, led off the CNMI students’ presentations with her agricultural research, done under the tutelage of her mentor, Dr. Marisol Quintanilla of Northern Marianas College. “I never thought I would encounter hands-on agricultural activities in the research program,” said Amado. “This research allowed me to work with an experienced scientist and challenged me to expand my horizons, since I had no knowledge of this field.”
Amado displays a poster on her summer research, completed as part of NIDDK’s STEP-UP efforts.
Photos: Bill Branson, Ernie Branson
After delivering her presentation and answering the NIH scientists’ questions, Amado breathed a sigh of relief. “The highlight of my trip was definitely the idea that I was able to develop my public speaking and socializing skills,” she said. “I was always a quiet and shy student who lacked confidence during presentations and I feel more than proud of the fact that I got to overcome that.”
Dr. George Hui, a research professor at the University of Hawaii, has been the STEP-UP program director for students in Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico. Now he’s also overseeing the Pacific islands program.
“For me, this is a milestone,” Hui said. “It has been over 3 years from the inception of the idea that STEP-UP should reach out to the Pacific islands to this first year participation of CNMI students. I do hope that after this experience, the CNMI students would come to know and believe that they are just as capable as the mainland U.S. students in doing science, even though they don’t have the resources to do the cutting-edge research available to mainland students.”
Despite limited resources, the CNMI students completed research studies relevant to island life. With the high prevalence of diabetes posing a major public health problem in the CNMI, Genevieve Gottwald studied the history and causes of diabetes prevalence. Claudette San Nicolas studied the use of traditional healer herbs and modern prescription medicine in treating diabetic foot disease. Mariah Barcinas and Richeena Farrell rounded out the five student- researchers.
All of the CNMI students agreed they would recommend STEP-UP to their peers. Amado would like to return to the STEP-UP college program next year if she can, saying, “The best part of the experience was meeting different and unique people who share the same inspiration with science research.”