A new five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for more than $700,000 will fund a “motivating innovation and research achievement” (MIRA) program for Washington State University underrepresented student researchers in biomedical science and engineering fields, said the three faculty members serving as co-principal investigators.

Applications are now open to incoming freshmen interested in the program. Participants in the MIRA program must be accepted into the WSU Honors College, plan to engage in undergraduate research and have a long-term interest in a graduate program leading to a career in biomedical research.

WSU MIRA participants will receive $12,000 for tuition each of four academic years plus $4,000 for summer research with a faculty member.

Applicants must also be part of a group that is underrepresented in sciences—based on racial or ethnic groups, physical or mental impairments, or a low-income family level. Or, they may have come from an educational environment that inhibited them from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career.

Participants will be part of a cohort for the four years of their baccalaureate program. They will do lab rotations with any of 30 participating faculty researchers and must major in specified fields, including biology, biochemistry, biophysics, bioengineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, genetics and cell biology, microbiology and neuroscience.

Cultivating, educating a diverse biomedical workforce

The NIH institute associated with the grant is the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). Its mission is to improve health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. Institute members work to integrate the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences to advance basic research and medical care.

“We sought this grant to equip these high-achieving WSU students with the skills and financial support needed to complete their undergraduate degrees, enter a graduate program and pursue a career in biomedical research,” said co-PI Mary Sanchez Lanier. She is an assistant vice provost, program director in the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA) and associate director of alumni relations and outreach and faculty in the School of Molecular Biosciences.

“The $12,000 per year is provided with the hope that students will be able to commit themselves fully to undergraduate research and their academic success without concerns of having to seek other employment.”

“We hope to help create through the WSU MIRA program a diverse and well-trained pool of scientists and engineers who will contribute to creative and innovative health solutions, allowing the U.S. to remain a world leader in biomedical sciences,” said Samantha Gizerian, associate professor, associate director of undergraduate studies and undergraduate program advisor in the Dept. of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Alla Kostyukova, associate professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, added, “By fostering increased diversity in the biomedical sciences through the WSU MIRA program, we will help to eliminate health disparities across the nation. Our student participants will become professionals, providing an empathetic and diverse workforce that reflects all socioeconomic backgrounds, one that can impact the wellbeing of underserved communities.”

Collaborations across WSU

The grant further reflects a variety of partnerships across the university, Sanchez Lanier said. Partners in the MIRA initiative include the provost’s office, the Honors College, DAESA and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, the Graduate School and the McNair Scholars Program there, Multicultural Student Services in the Division of Student Affairs with the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, and the College of Veterinary Medicine.

More information about the grant, the MIRA program, application requirements, participating faculty members and more is on the MIRA website.