PSU receives $19.3 million NIH grant to help underserved students become scientists

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded an additional $19.3 million grant to a successful Portland State University (PSU) program that helps students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds become top-level health sciences researchers.

The program – Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity for Enhancing Cross Disciplinary Infrastructure and Training at Oregon (BUILD EXITO) — started with a $23.7 million from NIH to PSU five years ago. The new grant will fund BUILD EXITO for another five years, by which time PSU hopes to make it self-sustaining.

The original grant five years ago was part of a nationwide investment by the NIH to develop new approaches to engage researchers — including those from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical sciences — and prepare them to thrive in the NIH-funded workforce. PSU was one of 10 primary institutions selected through this initiative.

Each of the 10 BUILD institutions partners with other colleges and universities.

“We are excited to continue our BUILD EXITO partnerships with Oregon Health & Science University; Portland, Clackamas and American Samoa Community Colleges; Clark College; University of Guam, University of Alaska Anchorage and Northern Marianas College for the next five years” PSU’s BUILD EXITO director Carlos Crespo said.

Students apply for the three-year program in the spring of their freshman year, either at PSU or one of the partner schools. Participants receive intensive mentoring and instruction on how scientific research is performed, then enter into an 18-month research placement where they work alongside research teams at PSU or OHSU on research projects that align with their interests. The research is on top of their other school obligations.

The program, which boasts a retention rate of nearly 90 percent, graduated its largest PSU cohort in June: 52 students. Several graduates have gone on to prestigious colleges such as Northwestern Univ., UC Berkeley and Harvard Medical School for their advanced degrees.

Crespo said the fact that the program focuses on diverse students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds is good for science because it brings in new perspectives.

“Science needs people from a variety of backgrounds to advance new discoveries in biomedical research. The current research workforce is not representative of the population it is supposed to serve,” Crespo said. “And there is science behind the fact that a more diverse workforce produces better research.”


This part of information is sourced from

Ken Ma

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