UWF NIH-funded MARC Scholars Program earns five-year renewal, expansion
The University of West Florida has been renewed by the National Institutes of Health to support the Maximizing Access to Research Careers, or MARC Scholars Program. With an anticipated five-year budget of $1.44 million, the MARC Scholars Program was funded for eight scholars per year. The first five-year grant was awarded in 2014 and totaled $979,000, which supported six scholars per year.
“Another five years of funding is NIH’s stamp of approval on the success of our program and the increased funding means our students are succeeding at the highest level nationally,” said Dr. Karen Molek, MARC principle investigator/scholars program director and chair of the Department of Chemistry. “MARC’s success is absolutely a campus effort with both faculty and staff in all divisions of campus. We are thankful for the opportunity to expand the UWF MARC Scholars Program with renewed vigor.”
The MARC Scholars program supports high-achieving junior and senior undergraduate students who are underrepresented and/or financially disadvantaged and pursuing a Ph.D. or MD/Ph.D. degree and research career in chemistry, biology, physics or mechanical engineering. The grant-funded training program is sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the 27 separate institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health.
“Prior to MARC, our scholars often worked more than 30 hours a week to financially support their undergraduate education,” Molek said. “The NIH funding allows MARC scholars to focus solely on their education and research. The opportunity to participate in undergraduate research under the mentorship of UWF faculty is invaluable for students, especially students who wouldn’t otherwise have that opportunity, and it makes them competitive for top-ranked graduate programs.”
Out of 16 incoming juniors who applied, four were selected to join the program in June 2019, for a total of seven UWF MARC Scholars currently receiving NIH support. Chemistry students Zahra Alikhani, Elena Monat and Ian Parker, along with biology student Kristina Samborski comprise the Fall 2019 cohort.
MARC Scholars complete a sustained research project alongside a UWF faculty researcher that spans from the summer before their junior year until graduation. Each student is also expected to participate in off-campus research during the summer before their senior year, as well as additional academic requirements.
Through the MARC Scholars Program, Wendy Teuchtler, a senior biomedical sciences major, had the opportunity to conduct research this summer at a genetics lab in the University of Washington in Seattle, where she’s also attending Genome Science Program seminars and workshops. This is just one of many opportunities that Teuchtler said have made a huge impact not only on her undergraduate education, but also on her future goals.
“MARC has connected me with mentors who have greatly helped me to find the types of science I am passionate about,” Teuchtler said. “This summer, MARC Scholars allowed me to pick a research lab from any institution to get hands-on, practical experience. I was able to choose exactly the work I was interested in, and now I have a better insight into what I would like to do as a graduate student.”
Ten of the 12 UWF MARC Scholar graduates from the initial NIH grant are currently enrolled in a Ph.D. or MD/Ph.D. program, and one has been accepted to a NIH-funded Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program.
After graduating from UWF in Summer 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences, Courtney Swain attended the PREP Scholars Program at the University of Alabama – Birmingham. She’s currently enrolled in the Medical Scientist Training Program at UAB, where she’s pursuing an MD/Ph.D. with the hopes of beginning a career as a physician scientist, researching cancer immunology. While at UWF, Swain, a Kugelman Honors Program graduate, conducted research in the Department of Biology with Dr. Peter Cavnar, co-Principal Investigator, on mechanisms involved in wound healing, inflammatory response and immune response.
Swain said the MARC Scholars Program offered her financial and mentor support that changed the course of her college education and future. In addition, she said the program helped her develop excellent public speaking skills that have helped her earn multiple poster presentation awards at national scientific conferences. However, she attributes the biggest impact from the MARC Scholars Program to faculty members who took the time to show her how much they truly cared about her success.
“Not every student is the same,” Swain said. “Especially in the MARC Scholars Program, we all came from different walks of life. The leadership committee worked really well with each of us from the time they met us until our graduation and beyond to ensure we met the goals we set for ourselves. If there was ever a hiccup in our journey, they were right there to help support us; that compassion was really helpful to me.”
For more information about the UWF MARC Scholars Program, visit uwf.edu/hmcse.