Members of the eighth class of the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) presented their research at a revamped spring symposium on April 10. The scholars pivoted to online presentations in their homes, avoiding contact to slow the spread of COVID-19. The 11 new members of this year’s group began developing and conducting mentored research projects last June.
“NSCP is one of the ways we increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in the sciences, and especially, environmental health sciences,” said Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the Office of Science Education and Diversity, which offers the program. “The program is open to all students with serious interest in biomedical research and careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math].”
Strengthening professional skills
Research experience is complemented by activities that build professional skills such as communication, leadership, interviewing, and near-peer mentoring. For example, new this year were presentations on emerging areas of research and a journal club at which students shared with peers a research paper central to their own project.
“In addition to the support from their mentors and labs, the students meet individuals from across NIEHS,” said coordinator Suchandra Bhattacharjee, Ph.D. “These include top leadership, lead researchers, scientists, Office of Intramural Training and Education and Office of Fellows Career Development [OFCD] representatives, postbaccalaureate and postdoctoral fellows, and many others who help inform educational choices and career paths.” She highlighted the integral support from teaching partners at the lab skills boot camp, presentation judges, advisory group members, and many others.
Stretching beyond NIEHS
Scholars are encouraged to present their work outside NIEHS as well. This year they were registered at eight different conferences, although some were cancelled as the novel coronavirus spread.
- 2019 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.
- 2020 Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
- 2020 National Conference of Undergraduate Research.
- 2019 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.
- 2020 Society of Toxicology (SOT).
- 2019 State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium.
- 2020 Symposium for Young Neuroscientists and Professors of the South East.
- 2019 Women’s Undergrad Research Conference.
“Some of our scholars will publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, including a first author paper — an incredible achievement for an undergraduate researcher,” said Bhattacharjee.
Outstanding students are recognized with awards. This year’s spring presentations were not judged due to the format changes.
- Iris Salswach Cadena, from North Carolina State University (NCSU), received the Outstanding Scholar Award in recognition of her research, engagement, and overall excellence.
- Best Poster: Naudia Gay, from St. Augustine’s University. Honorable mention: Samuel Goldstein, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).
- Best Elevator Pitch: Salswach Cadena, from NCSU. Honorable Mention: Trina Phan, from NCSU.
NIEHS-SOT Undergraduate Scholar
Arianna Lawrence, a senior at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) completing her second year of NSCP, was named the first NIEHS-SOT Undergraduate Scholar. “The scholar is assigned a mentor who is a toxicologist and member of SOT, and is expected to present at the SOT conference and participate in the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program,” explained Reid. “Arianna received a very competitive travel award, although the conference was cancelled due to COVID 19,” she added. Phan and Goldstein also received conference travel awards.
“The scholars showed resiliency in meeting the challenges of COVID-19 and doing a phenomenal job with their presentations,” said Bhattacharjee. “We celebrate the diversity and uniqueness each one brought to the program, and we cherish all their accomplishments.
Planning is underway for the ninth group of scholars, to begin this fall.