March 1, 2004

FIRST trains science faculty

By Holly Korschun

A postdoctoral fellowship program that combines training in research and teaching within a five-school Atlanta consortium has successfully launched faculty careers in the biological sciences for eight   of its graduates and is training 31 current fellows.

The Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching (FIRST) program is a collaboration among Emory and four historically minority-serving institutions within the Atlanta University Center (AUC). Funded by a five-year grant of nearly $7 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the FIRST program is training postgraduates to become researchers and college teachers in the biological sciences.

A report on the program's first four years was presented on Feb. 13 in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) by Triscia Hendrickson, a FIRST postdoctoral fellow in cell biology. The presentation was part of a symposium on "Building Capacity for Equity and Success: Opportunities for Diversifying Science."

The Emory-AUC FIRST consortium is one of six such programs in the United States, each of which includes top-ranked minority-serving institutions as equal partners with a nationally ranked research institution. The four AUC institutions are Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morehouse College and Spelman College. Half of the current group of 31 fellows are minorities, and FIRST will fund up to 33 postgraduate fellows this year. Currently there are five former FIRST fellows in tenure-track positions at colleges and universities.

In addition to the original grant, the National Institute of Human Genome Research at NIH has independently funded two Atlanta FIRST fellows--both African American women--in genomics and bioinformatics.

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. During their three-year program, fellows perform laboratory research under the guidance of a faculty scientist mentor and teach science to undergraduates under the guidance of a teaching mentor.

"The FIRST program has enabled Atlanta and the AUC institutions to attract and train excellent students," said Robert Gunn, professor and chair of physiology and principal investigator for the FIRST program. "The program also has provided us an opportunity to enhance the relationship among the faculty, students and administration of the universities at the AUC and Emory."

"I have been very fortunate to have been a participant in this training program, where I have been able not only to develop further my research skills but also gain teaching experience," Hendrickson said. "This program has been instrumental in preparing me for a career in research and teaching, which I will begin in fall 2004 at Morehouse College as an assistant professor in biology."

FIRST 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.