College students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in medicine now have the opportunity to conduct research at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus under a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) which was granted to two researchers from the CU School of Medicine in the fall of 2022.
Faculty members Christian Mosimann, PhD, and Catherine Musselman, PhD, will use the majority of NSF funds for their research on genome regulatory mechanisms. But as part of NSF’s mission to expand access to STEM careers, a portion of the grant funds are to be used for community outreach and impact efforts.
“NSF is federally charged with fundamental knowledge in science, such as our study of gene control in development and how it works at the molecular level, but it is also charged with recruiting people into science and educating the public. on science,” says Musselman. “It’s unique to NSF that in your grant they say, ‘How is this going to expand the scientific reach?’ How are you going to attract and train people from underrepresented backgrounds?” They focus a lot on that.
Building new partnerships
To achieve this goal, the two researchers’ labs are participating in a recently founded program that recruits students from Metropolitan State University (MSU) Denver to participate in research activities at the CU Anschutz medical campus. In collaboration with a graduate student or postdoctoral associate, participating students commit to 16 months of research spanning two semesters and two summers.
“We are especially looking for students who are not traditionally channeled,” Musselman says. “They may be from underrepresented groups, or maybe they didn’t have a parent with a PhD who could tell them exactly how to make this all happen. This is one of the reasons we reached out to Metro is that many of their students are non-traditional students, which opens the way for them to pursue scientific research. This is an opportunity that can potentially open up a whole new career for them.
Musselman is currently working with an MSU Denver student in his lab; the student is on track to have their name featured on a published research paper within the next year.
Mosimann, who was the first person in his family to go to college, says it’s extremely important for undergraduate students to be in a scientific environment, to participate in research and to see people who pursue a career in medicine.
“My mom doesn’t understand why I’m still in college,” he laughs. “When will I be done and have a real job? We can make jokes about it, but in other circles, or depending on where you come from with your family history, it’s ‘huge hurdles. To have the opportunity to see that this is something you can pursue as a real career, and you can contribute to it – I find it incredible that our taxpayers’ money is funding this. I hope it happens will replicate across the country.
As another part of the outreach activities related to their NSF grant, Musselman and Mosimann are also involved in The Art of Science, a fellowship initiated by John Rinn, PhD, professor of biochemistry at CU Boulder.
The scholarship is a 12-month fellowship awarded to undergraduate students who have an interest in bridging art and science, as well as a demonstrated financial need.
Applications are currently open for the 2023 Art of Science Fellowship; the program’s first year, in 2021, helped two artists who were undergraduate students at CU Denver and MSU Denver, respectively – Mikyla Futz and Mia Miller.
“There are a lot of people who have a hobby as an artist, but they don’t get paid,” Rinn says. “There is a great career opportunity in science illustration, where you can draw a scientific concept so people can understand complex things in a painterly way.”
Fellows meet every few weeks with a team of science and art teachers. In addition to Rinn and Musselman, this team includes MSU Denver faculty members Megan Filbin, PhD, Megan Lazorski, PhD, and Anil Rao, PhD. This team helps with student training and each student presents a final artistic project at the end of the scholarship.
“The goal was to help students open pathways to pursue this interface in their professional careers,” says Musselman. “Mikyla started medical school at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University this year, and she used her work on the art of science as a research project in her medical school applications. to say, “How can I continue to use my art as a physician to help communicate with patients more effectively? The admissions committee loved it. It was great to see how touched they were by his ability to reach out to patients.
Top illustrations by Mikyla Futz, left, and Mia Miller, right.
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