LCSN: NMSU program works to create a diverse field of biomedical researchers

August 5, 2012. Retrieved online August 6, 2012 from Janet Perez, Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES — For the past 16 years, Michael Johnson has shepherded New Mexico State University’s Minority Access to Research Careers program and, more importantly for him, the many students who have successfully gone through the curriculum.

“You can help students achieve dreams they never thought they could shoot for,” said Johnson, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the MARC program at NMSU. “Somebody just has to be there to encourage, support, and direct them.”

And Johnson, in collaboration with research faculty, will continue to guide NMSU undergraduates who are committed to a career in biomedical research. For 36 years, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences has funded New Mexico State’s MARC program, which seeks to increase the number and capabilities of biomedical researchers from underrepresented groups. The main purpose of the program is to prepare undergraduate students for graduate studies in the biomedical sciences, eventually leading to a Ph.D.

As the MARC director, Johnson has to re-apply for funding every five years, and this year, he and his team were again successful. In June, they were awarded a grant worth $3.8 million that extends MARC funding until 2017. The grant will allow Johnson to award MARC fellowships to as many as 24 undergraduate students each year of the grant.

“Every five years, it’s a competitive renewal and with all the budget cuts across all agencies this year we were worried,” Johnson said. “The competition has increased as money has decreased. But we’re fortunate that the NMSU faculty, staff and students helped to put together a great proposal.”

The MARC program at NMSU has come a long way since it was first funded in 1977. That first grant brought the university $342,000. With every grant renewal, the amount NMSU received has grown. To date, MARC has brought $15 million to NMSU, on which $12 million Johnson has been the principal investigator….

With the grant money, Johnson has worked with faculty from other departments at NMSU to create innovative courses for all students on campus. During the last five-year period that ended this year, classes looking at the business side and ethics of biomedical research were developed. These were taught in the College of Business by Sherry Mills, professor of accounting and information systems; and the College of Arts and Sciences by Danny Scoccia, head of the philosophy department. The business of biomedical class proved so effective that it has since been adapted as a course for Master of Arts students in the biology department.

“Working with other departments and colleges allows MARC to have an impact on the whole campus,” Johnson said. “This means that MARC can help all NMSU students and not just those in the MARC program.”

For the upcoming five-year period, the MARC program will be introducing new classes and summer workshops for NMSU students in ethics, toxicology and communications.

Read the Las Cruces Sun-News article

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