UWF chemistry faculty receive $930k National Institutes of Health Grant

University of West Florida | news@uwf.edu

The University of West Florida was recently selected to receive a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant totaling approximately $930,000, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Karen Molek, assistant professor and director of Chemistry Scholars, and Dr. Michael Huggins, professor and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The award money will be distributed over the next five years.

UWF was awarded the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research, or MARC U-STAR, grant to provide support for underrepresented undergraduate students pursuing PhD or MD/PhD degrees in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

The grant, funded by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, provides financial support to students to allow them to spend more time in the research lab, thereby improving their preparation for high-caliber graduate programs. According to the NIH website, the grant program also supports efforts to strengthen the science course curricula and pedagogical skills of faculty and biomedical research training at institutions with significant enrollments of students from underrepresented groups.

“Dr. Huggins and I have the privilege of using this award to mentor students and help them achieve greater success than they ever dreamed,” Molek said. “Research scientists capable of solving health concerns of the 21st century will require collaborative research from a diverse workforce. The diversity of professional research scientists can only result when all students are given the opportunity to ascertain their potential. My goal is to help remove financial barriers so that all students have the opportunity to receive a high quality education.”

The grant money will be used to fund tuition and a portion of housing expenses for UWF students participating in the MARC Scholars Program, as well as summer stipends for students to conduct research on and off campus during the summer semester. Additional funds will go toward research supply stipends for UWF faculty mentors and more.

A portion of the grant will fund small research stipends for 17 UWF faculty members from the biology, chemistry and physics departments who will mentor MARC Scholars in the research lab. Additionally, 43 faculty members from 26 Research intensive institutions have agreed to host and mentor UWF MARC Scholars in their research labs during a summer semester.

The UWF Department of Chemistry has a 94 percent acceptance rate for students who continue on to graduate school. It is also home to the UWF Chemistry Scholars Program, which has helped improve the percentage of underrepresented chemistry graduates from 5 percent in 2008-2012 to 32 percent in 2013-2014. The number of underrepresented chemistry graduates pursuing graduate degrees has also risen from 2 percent in 2008-2012 to 17 percent in 2012-2014, in part as a result of the creation of the UWF Chemistry Scholars program.

Molek said the grant will also aid in the University’s efforts to expand the UWF Chemistry Scholars program into other STEM departments across campus and secure additional federal grants.

“The MARC U-STAR grant will allow UWF to increase the opportunities for students majoring in biology, chemistry and physics by providing them with experiences and training that will help them be outstanding scientists, researchers and physicians,” Huggins said. “The mentoring and research training provided to students will play a critical role in their professional development, helping to ensure they have the best chances of being successful.”

For additional information about the UWF Department of Chemistry, visit uwf.edu/chemistry.

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