NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

RISE program helps minority students do scientific research

At New Mexico State University a long-term effort to increase the number of minority students earning doctoral degrees in biomedical science is gaining impetus from a program aimed at giving students research experience and greater insight into the academic world.

ated in September 2000 with a $7.9 million, four-year grant from National Institutes of Health, the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) already has helped 25 students earn degrees in biology, chemistry, biochemistry and other sciences, said Marvin Bernstein, a biology professor and RISE's director.

RISE is the latest step in a decades-long effort at New Mexico State to increase the number of minority students earning advanced degrees in the life sciences. In 1974, the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program was established at New Mexico State with NIH funding. From 1974 to February 2000, MBRS helped 404 minority students earn science degrees, including 60 doctoral graduates who identified New Mexico State as their baccalaureate institution, Bernstein said.

In 2000, the NIH divided MBRS into two programs, Support of Continuous Research Excellence (SCORE), which provides funding for scientific research, and RISE, which provides help directly to students, he said.

Under RISE, graduate and undergraduate students work as research assistants to professors doing significant research in the life sciences. Undergraduates in the program are paid an hourly wage, while graduate students receive a fellowship, with tuition and major medical coverage.

RISE also provides workshops on taking the Graduate Record Examination, a prerequisite for admission to graduate school, and the chance to attend top-level scientific conferences all over the United States, with workshops on how to make presentations and design scientific posters for such proceedings.

In the chemistry department, RISE operates a program in which top students work with undergraduates to help them succeed in the department's introductory organic chemistry course. The program has significantly raised the grade averages in the course, Bernstein said.

Rafael Leos, a graduate student in biology, said the training and opportunities offered by MBRS and RISE have opened doors for him.

While attending a conference of the American Physiological Society in San Diego, Calif., in 1999, Leos -- whose lifetime dream has been to study ocean creatures -- met researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The meeting led to his doing oceanography research at the institute's headquarters in La Jolla, Calif., in 1999 and 2000.

As a research assistant in Bernstein's study of the circulation and heat regulation of birds, Leos said he has gained further research experience and his supervision of underclassmen in the study has provided experience that will be useful in another of his goals -- becoming a university professor.

"RISE helps you step forward in the direction you're going," Leos said. "It has given me the chance to perform research in the areas I'm interested in and to see if that's what I wanted, and it's provided funding that has allowed me to focus on academia."

Karima White, a senior majoring in biology and agricultural biology, said RISE has done more than provide her with opportunities. White, who assists biology Assistant Professor Graciela Unguez in a study of spinal cord regeneration in certain types of fish, said RISE made her aware of a world of academic thought she never knew existed.

"I never had a doubt I was going to college. It was the way I was raised," she said. "But, going to college was always seen as a way to get a better job. I'd never really understood that college was a place where professors were teaching, but also doing research in science. Being in RISE has let me see that the university is a place where so much is being done to broaden the knowledge of all mankind. It's really brought that home to me," she said.

"Rafael Leos, Karima White and other students like them are the future of science in our country," Bernstein said. "We hope their participation in RISE will help them fulfill their potential to be leaders in biomedical research in the new century."