NIH grant boosts Michigan colleges

The Detroit News

Four Michigan colleges that sometimes get lost in the shadow of the Big Two universities have a chance to become national leaders in attracting minorities to careers in biomedical sciences.

A $21.2 million grant from the National Institute of Health to the University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne State University, Marygrove College and Wayne County Community College District is aimed at implementing academic programs that attract students from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

UDM is the lead college for the REBUILD Detroit project, and will manage the funds, which will be distributed over five years.

The goal is to establish Detroit as a center for biomedical research training for minorities and low income students, and become a model that other regions can follow.

The bio-medical categories are an off shoot of applied biology, chemistry and related sciences, says Antoine M. Garibaldi, UDM president.

"We want to first help get students an under graduate degree and then encourage them to pursue graduate and doctorate degrees because there is such a shortage of under-represented groups in the bio-medical categories," he says.

About $12 million of the grant is devoted to scholarships and student training, Garibaldi says.

The program will have students work several hours a week with a faculty member. They'll get the money for scholarship support, initially, then during their studies they will be placed with an instructor to work on a specific research project.

The REBUILD Detroit name is a lengthy acronym for Research Enhancement for Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity. While the name is cumbersome, its goals are clear and admirable.

The project hopes to have at least 75 percent of its scholars graduate with degrees in biomedical science-related fields and then have 50 percent of those graduates advance into biomedical research doctoral programs.

"We feel we can use this project as a way to attract even more students to our institutions," says Garibaldi. "It also allows us to specialize in the science, engineering and mathematical areas, where there is a general shortage of students."

Among the projects are research that can develop new drugs, cure an illness or isolate a disease chromosome.

Combined, the ReBUILD Detroit colleges enroll more than 47,000 undergraduates, with about 50 percent underrepresented minorities and/or students who qualify for federal financial aid.

UDM and its REBUILD Detroit partners should be commended for winning the grant and for their efforts at diversifying their student populations.