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Grant opens doors for disadvantaged students

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High school student Kyle Mou presents his research on insecticide effectiveness in sunlight and rain as part of Bradley’s Building Excellent Scientists for Tomorrow (BEST) program.

Bradley University received a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to provide more traditionally underrepresented groups of high school students the opportunity to gain experience in clinical research.

The Building Excellent Scientists for Tomorrow (BEST) program, now in its eighth year at Bradley, offers students the chance to work in scientific research fields for 10 weeks during the summer. For the first time, a subset of the program, Clinical Research Experiences for Students (CREST), provides those same opportunities for students interested in clinical research experiences.

While any interested high school student is eligible to apply for the BEST or CREST programs, Bradley University has funding to make this experience affordable for students with high financial need.

The Doris Duke grant is providing nearly $200,000 over three years, beginning in 2012, to enable Bradley to serve up to 10 students each year from low socioeconomic households, minority groups and high schools with fewer opportunities in math and science, as well as students who will be the first in their families to attend college.

“We’re building a cadre of students who have a focus in a research program, and we’re making that available to more students who could not participate in any other way,” says founding co-director Dr. Kelly McConnaughay.

Each summer, students in the program spend between 200 and 300 hours learning research methods, research ethics, laboratory safety and research presentation skills. There also are opportunities to network with business leaders and participate in social events.

“We want them to become a part of the larger community,” Dr. McConnaughay says.

Last summer, CREST students researched human stem cells, clinical aging, robotics and prosthetics, among others.

Bradley faculty members, as well as individuals from organizations in the community, serve as mentors to the BEST students and in the process enrich their own learning and research experiences.

“We’re here because we love working with energetic, excitable students who love to learn,” Dr. McConnaughay says. “They bring a freshness and a challenge to our research program.”

Bradley students also are enriched by serving as peer mentors in the program. “The hidden benefit is the effect it has on your own under-graduate student colleagues. They have to step it up. They have to become peer leaders. It’s transformative for the whole lab.”

Sometimes BEST students enroll at Bradley as under-graduates in science and math fields and are already well versed in research and lab procedures. That helps jumpstart their entire college careers, Dr. McConnaughay says.

“I know students coming in will have experience and background in research,” she says. “I know that I can push them faster and farther. There’s more continuity.”