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Maria Linder and grad students in a chemistry lab

Maria Linder, right, works with grad students Yu-Hsiang Chu, middle, and Ben Rojas.

Recruiting Researchers

Linder lands $1.2 million to prepare students for biomedical science research

May 6, 2008

By Russ L. Hudson

Maryland-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute recently analyzed and judged proposals from 224 undergraduate institutions from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico — all seeking a piece of a $60 million pie the institute was offering to those who came up with the best creative new ways to engage students in the biological sciences.

Forty eight awards were made, including a $1.2 million grant to Maria Linder, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

In her proposal, Linder stressed the challenges faced by many of Cal State Fullerton's more than 36,000 students — those born outside the United States and those from families where neither parent graduated from college.

That presents, at times, unusually tough challenges. Among other bumps in the road, Linder pointed out, "the college actively encourages its undergraduates to seek first hand research experience, but financial support for these positions has been extremely limited.

"Many talented students must devote significant portions of their time to off campus jobs," she said, adding that it can leave them without resources to pursue the inquiry-based science that could launch their careers.

With that in mind, Linder said, "I wish we could do something for all of them. But, these are the ones we can reach, and this is certainly going to help."

Linder's plan calls for a three-tiered approach to help students on campus, at community colleges and in high school. It also offers high school teachers credit for their participation.

The high school component will focus on 16 Orange County teachers, each with two of their students. The teacher- student teams will come to campus for five weeks in the summer to do research in the lab of a campus faculty member.

The next school year, the teacher-student teams, as well as some other high school students, will come to campus twice for two weekend-long research projects that focus on interdisci­plinary, real world science issues.

"We hope this part of the program will gradually build a community of research interest at the high school level," Linder said. "Teachers will get credit for the program. It's a new venture and, depending on how it goes, we may expand it."

At the community college level, Cal State Fullerton will expand its 10-week summer research program to include community college students. Over the length of the four-year grant, a total of 64 community college students will join the high school students and teachers for weekend research programs during the academic year.

"This won't be cookbook research," Linder emphasized. "These will be new things they'll be working on."

To reach its own students, Cal State Fullerton will choose four undergraduates each year for an intensive two-year program that involves mentored laboratory research, weekly workshops and poster presentations at local and national meet­ings. Each scholar will write a senior research thesis.

"That part of the program will focus on motivated students who have overcome adversity and are committed to earning a graduate or professional degree in the biomedical sciences," Linder said.

All of the students and the high school teachers will receive stipends and, if they travel to make a presentation, travel compensation. Only the community college weekend-only research students will receive no stipend, Linder said. Their compensation, she said, is "the experience that will help them with their future studies and with their future careers."

"I'm excited about the integrated nature of the projects," she said. "The objective for us and for the medical institute is to recruit more students into the biomedical sciences as researchers, and we're trying to attack this in three or four ways at the same time."

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