WSU Program Nurtures Budding Research Scientists

9/12/11Follow @XconomyDET

At Wayne State University, labs aren’t just a sterile space for solemn experiments. For students in the school’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), it’s a chance to work directly with their instructors, get a taste of the scientific life, and gather some up-close career advice in the process.

“The laboratory setting is almost like a kitchen,” says Joseph Dunbar, WSU’s associate vice president for research and the program’s director. “They can ask questions, interact … there’s not as much of a chasm between students and faculty. They see what’s possible, and it gives them confidence to talk about their careers in an intimate fashion.”

Last month, the National Institutes of Health announced a five-year grant of more than $3 million to support the IMSD program, which seeks to nurture student interest in scientific careers by providing them with opportunities to participate in behavioral and biomedical research projects.

Dunbar says the original idea behind the program was getting more ethnic minority students to work on scientific research projects. Wayne State was a natural fit for the program: When the IMSD program started in 1978, many students came from auto industry families and were the first in their familes to go to college.

“In metro Detroit, you had multiple generations of families working for the auto industry, and you’d grow up, go to high school, and then go to Mr. Ford or Mr. GM for a job—that’s just how it was done,” Dunbar says. “But those jobs are probably never coming back, and we know that America’s next move forward probably involves science and technology.”

At Wayne State, the program has supported more than 700 students so far. As of 2010, 390 undergraduates in the program had gone on to complete bachelor’s degrees, 64 had obtained master’s degrees, and 68 had gone on to complete doctorates. Some of the post-IMSD careers have been noteworthy. Eric Ansorge, who did research at WSU on heart failure through the program, is now an Army major in charge of a large biomedical research program. … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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