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October 10, 2002


Fellowship Program in Biological Sciences Links Emory University and Atlanta University Center

NIH-Funded FIRST Program Trains Science Graduates for Both Research and Teaching

More than 25 postgraduate science students in Atlanta universities are training to become researchers and college teachers in the biological sciences through the Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching (FIRST) program. The FIRST program has just completed its second year of a five-year grant of nearly $7 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to Emory University and five institutions within the Atlanta University Center (AUC).

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. The program recently has been renamed, after it originally was called the Postdoctoral Research and Education Program (PREP). During their three-year program, the fellows perform laboratory research and teach science to undergraduate students under the guidance of a faculty scientist mentor.

The Emory-AUC FIRST consortium is one of four 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 five AUC institutions are Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College and Spelman College. Half of the current group of 25 fellows are members of minorities. The FIRST program has funding available for up to 32 fellows this year. Recent graduates with a Ph.D. or equivalent degree are eligible to apply for fellowships.

In addition to the original 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 Ph.D. degrees were in these areas.

The original group of FIRST fellows, who began their training in 2000-2001, organized and produced a workshop at Morehouse School of Medicine in the spring of 2002 on Gender, Race, and Teaching.

"The FIRST program is enabling 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, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physiology at Emory University School of Medicine and principal investigator for the FIRST program. "The program also is providing us an opportunity to enhance the relationship among the faculty, students and administration of the universities at the AU Center and Emory," he says.

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. Students 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 six schools. Emory physiologist Douglas C. Eaton, Ph.D., is co-director of the program and Emory biologist Arri Eisen, Ph.D. is teaching coordinator. The executive committee also includes Dr. Isabella Finkelstein, Clark-Atlanta University; Dr. J. K. Haynes, Morehouse College; Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith, Spelman College; Dr. David Potter, Morehouse School of Medicine and Dr. Sobrasua Ibim, Morris Brown College. Emory faculty represent the departments of microbiology and immunology, pathology, biology, physiology, biochemistry and cell biology.

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