FIRST fellowship program proves worthy model for training faculty in biological sciences

February 13, 2004

ATLANTA--A postdoctoral fellowship program that combines training in research and teaching within a five-school Atlanta consortium has successfully launched faculty careers in the biological sciences for 8 of its graduates and is continuing to train 31 current fellows. The Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching (FIRST) program, is a collaboration among Emory University and four historically minority-serving institutions within the Atlanta University Center (AUC). Funded by a five-year grant of nearly $7 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the FIRST program is training postgraduates to become researchers and college teachers in the biological sciences.

A report on the program's first four years will be presented on February 13 in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) by Triscia Hendrickson, PhD, a FIRST postdoctoral fellow in Cell Biology. The presentation will be part of a symposium on "Building Capacity for Equity and Success: Opportunities for Diversifying Science".

The Emory-AUC FIRST consortium is one of six such programs in the U.S., each of which includes nationally top-ranked minority-serving institutions as equal partners with a nationally ranked research institution. The four AUC institutions are Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morehouse College and Spelman College. Half of the current group of 31 fellows are members of minorities. The FIRST program will fund up to 33 postgraduate fellows this year. Currently there are five former FIRST fellows in tenure-track positions at colleges and universities.

In addition to the original NIH grant, the National Institute of Human Genome Research at the NIH has independently funded two Atlanta FIRST fellows in the area of genomics and bioinformatics - positions that were filled by African-American women whose PhD degrees were in these areas.

The FIRST program aims to significantly increase the number of graduates who are well prepared to work in academia or industry in a specific area of research and to teach in universities and colleges serving minority students. During their three-year program, the fellows perform laboratory research under the guidance of a faculty scientist mentor and teach science to undergraduate students under the guidance or a teaching mentor.

"The FIRST program has enabled Atlanta and the AUC institutions to attract and train excellent students, many of whom will likely remain to become faculty in Atlanta's undergraduate minority-serving institutions," said Robert Gunn, MD, chair of the Department of Physiology at Emory University School of Medicine and principal investigator for the FIRST program. "The program also has provided us an opportunity to enhance the relationship among the faculty, students and administration of the universities at the AU Center and Emory," he says.

"I have been very fortunate to have been a participant in this training program, where I have been able not only to develop further my research skills but also gain teaching experience," said Dr. Hendrickson. "I believe the opportunities that were provided to me through this program are unique to the post-doctoral experience in that I was able to work with both a research mentor and a teaching mentor. Furthermore, this program has been instrumental in preparing me for a career in research and teaching, which I will begin in Fall 2004 at Morehouse College as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology.

The FIRST program supports traditional interdisciplinary research education for three years, led by established laboratory investigators from Emory or one of the AUC schools. This is combined with concurrent mentorship in classroom methods and technologies, course development and teaching practice in undergraduate minority-serving institutions. Fellows team teach a course with a fellow postdoctoral student and launch the course on the worldwide web.

Faculty in the FIRST program are members of 13 biological sciences departments in the five Atlanta institutions.
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Emory University Health Sciences Center

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