Newly awarded NIH NIDDK R25 grant establishes Washington University as a coordinating center for the Short-Term Research Experience Program to Unlock Potential (STEP-UP)
The Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS) Clinical Research Training Center (CRTC) received a R25 grant in May 2022 establishing Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis as a coordinating center for the Short-Term Research Experience Program to Unlock Potential or STEP-UP, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) program to introduce scholars underrepresented in medicine (URiM) to medical research.
Washington University is one of three coordinating centers for the nationwide program that works to increase the diversity pool of undergraduates pursuing research careers in biomedical, behavioral, and social science research disciplines by providing intensive, high-quality summer research experiences for underrepresented minorities, disadvantaged and disabled persons. By increasing exposure, the STEP-UP program hopes to build and sustain a biomedical, behavioral, and clinical and social science research pipeline focused on NIDDK’s core mission areas of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic diseases, digestive diseases and nutrition, kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases.
With this new grant, the CRTC, under the direction of program co-investigators Ana María Arbeláez, MD, MSCI, chief of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes; Dominic Reeds, MD, professor of medicine and Associate Dean of Research at Goldfarb School of Nursing, and Rita Brookheart, PhD, assistant professor of medicine immediately launched a webpage with details specific to Washington University’s coordinating center, including a link to the national application site.
According to Reeds, “Diabetes and obesity have grown to epidemic proportions in our country. And there are less and less people researching these conditions, thereby exposing a growing gap in the future workforce. The STEP-UP program is proactively addressing this gap, spreading research capacity and democratizing research.”
The NIDDK provides funding and oversight for STEP-UP and each coordinating center handles the administrative and programming needs for its cohorts. Interested undergraduate students across the country apply through the NIDDK STEP-UP portal and request to be associated with a specific coordinating center. The coordinating centers, including Washington University, review applications and select their own cohorts. Admitted scholars can choose where to implement their research experience, either at a local academic institution or hospital within commuting distance for them.
The Washington University STEP-UP cohort for 2022 consists of 18 scholars that will participate in a ten-week intensive summer program including a mentored human-subjects research experience, didactic coursework, and weekly professional development seminars. Scholars are encouraged to participate in a second year of engagement and continue their mentored research projects. The 2022 cohort will complete their WashU specific programming virtually and will conclude the summer with an in-person annual research symposium at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, joining other STEP-UP cohorts nationwide.
“We have worked hard to provide each scholar with a robust, personalized mentorship structure,” comments Brookheart. “In addition to offering a unique core curriculum with courses in biostatistics, bioethics, and clinical research, mentorship is a key component of this program. Each member of the cohort will be paired with a School of Medicine faculty member. And, we are working to incorporate near-peer engagement by pairing up current School of Medicine MD and MD/PhD students with each scholar.”
Mentorship won’t stop at the end of the ten weeks, scholars will continue their research and training online after the summer session concludes. The CRTC is encouraging this continued involvement by scheduling monthly seminars for the scholars throughout the academic year on career development topics such as time management and professionalism. Scholars are encouraged to participate in a second year of the program in which they receive more advanced training; it is hoped that many will participate in the program at Washington University next summer.
Washington University was awarded the STEP-UP grant in May and kicked off the program in early June with an online cohort orientation. “The existing infrastructure within the CRTC allowed us to quickly respond to the STEP-UP application,” reflects Arbelaez. “We already had the resources in place to develop the needed curriculum and mentorship programs as a coordinating center … all in a relatively short period of time. And, we look forward to growing the program by further utilizing resources currently available in the CRTC.”
STEP-UP is a federally funded program managed and supported by the Office of Minority Health Research Coordination (OMHRC) in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
2022 Washington University STEP-UP Cohort
|Home Institution||Undergrad Year||Research Institution|
|University of California Los Angeles||Sophomore||University of California, Riverside|
|Howard University||Sophomore||University of California, Davis|
|University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez||Junior||MIT|
|University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez||Junior||University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez|
|Rutgers University-New Brunswick||Freshman||Rutgers University|
|University of Michigan||Sophomore||University of Michigan|
|University of California, Los Angeles||Freshman||University of Maryland College Park|
|Howard University||Junior||Georgetown University|
|Smith College||Junior||Einstein- Mount Sinai Diabetes Research Center|
|Johns Hopkins University||Junior||Johns Hopkins|
|University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras||Freshman||University of Puerto Rico|
|University of California – Riverside||Junior||University of California- Riverside|
|Middlebury College||Freshman||University of Chicago|
|Rice University||Sophomore||UT Southwestern|
|Hofstra University||Freshman||Johns Hopkins|
|University of California San Diego||Junior||Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis|
|University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez||Senior||University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez|