Helping minority students pursue research

Launched nationally by the National Institutes of Health, the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) and Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) programs have been a part of campus life for several decades. Molecular, cell and developmental professors Alan Zahler and Barry Bowman helm MARC and IMSD, respectively.

MARC is exclusively an undergraduate honors program, focusing on students who have an early commitment to graduate research. IMSD accepts undergrad and graduate students. Though separate, the programs share many resources, and a few students transfer from IMSD to MARC every year. MARC awardees receive a monthly stipend, while IMSD students are given an hourly salary.

MARC and IMSD are not simply financial aid. Programs staff director Malika Bell and assistant Yulianna Ortega offer both academic and personal support. The programs provide everything from equipment for printing conference posters to tutoring. The program staff know each student personally, and have even had students stay with them on occasion.

Shewit Tekeste (Oakes ‘08, MCD biology), now a third-year doctoral student at UCLA studying HIV proteins, credits her love of research to the program. The friendly environment, regular seminars, opportunities to attend national conferences, tutoring, and private meetings with Bell helped build her confidence as a young scientist, she says.

The success of these programs is reflected in the impressive achievements of their alumni. In the last five years, for example, 50 percent of MARC students have gone on to Ph.D. programs. Together, the programs are about to celebrate their 100th Ph.D. awarded.

Juan Noveron (Ph.D. ‘00, bioinorganic chemistry) benefited from both programs as a student, and calls them critical to his success. ” As an undergraduate student, it allowed me to network with people in research careers and inspired me to pursue a college-level teaching career. As a graduate student, the MARC-IMSD program provided the financial support to focus on my research projects.”

Now, as associate professor of chemistry at University of Texas at El Paso, Noveron works with his local MARC-IMSD program and young students just starting their scientific careers, paying forward the support he received at UCSC.