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Biology Research Fellows Will Diversify Students in Life Sciences

By Krishna Ramanujan

Cornell is No. 1 for sending students in life sciences to graduate school, but just like other schools, Cornell needs to boost how many minority students seek advanced degrees in the life sciences.

Now, thanks to almost $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and $16,000 per year from Cornell’s Office of the Provost, a new Cornell program aims to broaden the pipeline of underrepresented minorities entering life sciences graduate fields.

Jamie Moore labels a container in a research laboratory.
Jason Koski/University Photography

Jamie Moore '11 was one of eight students selected this year for a biology research fellowship.

The inaugural class of the Biology Research Fellows Program contains eight fellows, all juniors, who began the program in January 2010. The fellowships are not intended for pre-medical students, but to enhance the diversity and number of undergraduates who plan to pursue careers in biology research.

“We have never had support like this to develop and implement a program for diversifying the group of students going into research careers,” says Bonnie Comella, director of academic advising for biological science and director of the Biology Scholars Program.

Myra Shulman, a senior research associate in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Ron Harris-Warrick, professor of neurobiology and behavior, are leading the fellowship program.

The program targets juniors and seniors from underrepresented populations—including Hispanic/Latino, African American, Native American, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders—but the fellowships are also open to students who demonstrate a commitment to diversity through such activities as tutoring inner-city youths.

The fellowships provide $21,000 per student over almost two years.

“The NSF wants to reduce the financial constraints on students,” says Shulman. “It’s designed to take the pressure off to [allow students to] explore the amazing research opportunities at Cornell.”

Fellows will be matched with faculty mentors and given opportunities to work part time in their labs throughout the school year and full time during their junior-year winter session and summer prior to senior year. Students will also contribute to the community through peer mentoring and outreach.