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New program broadens research education
 
June 27, 2005
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456 or mstepanovich@csub.edu

Two new programs at California State University, Bakersfield will help fund minority math and science students’ education. The Student Preparation for Academic Research Careers and Minority Access to Research Careers-Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research programs, or SPARC and MARC U* STAR as they are known, are designed to prepare underrepresented minority students for advanced studies in the natural sciences, mathematics, and biomedical research at the graduate level.

Carl Kemnitz, CSUB SPARC/MARC U* STAR program director, said the MARC program is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). SPARC is paid for by CSUB. “The NIH is interested in biomedical research,” Kemnitz said. “They want to tap every available mind. They believe that underrepresented minorities haven’t had enough support academically and financially to do research. This grant gives them the tools to do it.”

SPARC is for freshman and sophomore college students, while MARC is for juniors and seniors. The program is still in its infancy at CSUB, only starting its first group of students this month. There weren’t even enough students to fill all the vacancies for the SPARC program. Kemnitz is trying to get the word out. “We’re still trying to get our foot hold,” he added.

There are 24 available spots a year for SPARC and recruitment starts at the high school junior and senior level. “I’m anywhere math and science students are,” said Andrea Medina, CSUB SPARC/MARC U* STAR coordinator. Medina contacts local high school counselors, attends science fairs, and talks with math and science teachers to engage new recruits.

The program offers participants a two-year scholarship worth $1,200 per academic year. Students do have to work hard for their money. They must maintain a 3.0 GPA and take core classes including cellular biology and physiology. “SPARC does not guarantee acceptance into MARC, but it will provide a strong foundation that all MARC students are expected to have,” Medina said.

MARC is even more competitive with only six slots available a year. Students participate in extensive academic research, conference presentations, ethics training, and graduate school preparation. The program starts with an intensive research academy during the first summer of the program. MARC has its specific requirements as well including that students must maintain a 3.0 GPA, take core classes and complete a thesis.

Students will get help along the way. “There’s a lot of personalized attention since it’s such a small program,” Kemnitz said. “Each student will have a faculty mentor. Our goal is to get them to grad school so they can feel comfortable to come to us with questions or for advice.”

MARC participants receive $12,887 per academic year. “A lot of students can’t believe how much money they can get,” Medina said. In addition students can receive $1,500 for research project funding and up to $1,000 to attend professional meetings to present their results. “When students attend these meetings they’re networking with faculty from graduate schools,” she added.

Joe McFaddin, a CSUB MARC student, is a biology major who will be a senior in the fall. He recognizes the importance of the program during his undergraduate work. “Part of being competitive is knowing that you have the competency to do the research,” McFaddin emphasized. “That way you know what to expect and how to do it once you get to graduate school.” He added it also helps to communicate with other students in the program because they have unique and different approaches to questions and research.

A fellow classmate of McFaddin is currently hard at work researching the proteins and genes of plants. “The concept of this program is so cool,” said Stacey Abidayo, a CSUB MARC student. Abidayo just graduated from high school and because of her hard work is already at junior-level status at CSUB. “The money is an incentive but we’re all really interested in the research anyway. You get hands-on research opportunities and it looks great on resumes.”

Kemnitz wants to entice a variety of math and science students to apply. “You don’t have to be interested in biomedical research to be a part of this program,” he stressed. “Many groundbreaking discoveries of the future will require an integrative and collaborative approach to research at the boundaries of traditional biology, where they meet the mathematical, computational, and molecular sciences. … (It’s) essential to the biomedical enterprise that we prepare a research workforce comprised of life scientists and computer scientists who can work together effectively and communicate. We cannot afford to ignore any segment of the population when preparing these future researchers.”

For eligibility inquiries or any additional information, please contact Medina at (661) 654-3006, or visit www.csub.edu/marc.

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