$1 258 860
Recommended if funds allow
Statement of Benefit to California:
The proposed program will provide ten upper division undergraduates students a year for each of three years with comprehensive training in stem cell research. Students will complete a year long stem cell training program at the home institution followed by a seven month internship at one of four host institutions. The home institution training includes lecture and seminar courses in stem cell biology and related topics, a 16 week stem cell laboratory course and six months of independent research at one of four home laboratories. Students will then take a further CIRM or NIH stem cell techniques course and intern in one of 48 laboratories at 4 host institutions. Students will present the results of their internship at an annual stem cell symposium. The program also proposes to reach a larger student population by creating stem cell/regenerative medicine modules for a non-major introductory biology course and for an upper division non-major’s biology course. This program builds on an already successful and well respected biology program at the home institution. It takes advantage of the close proximity between the home institution and the four partner institutions so logistics should be, at most, only a minor problem. Reviewers found the training program to be clearly described and that plans for its integration into the normal undergraduate program also to be clear. Reviewers considered the strengths of the program to be the extensive preparation of students for their internships. They commented favorably on the coursework and noted that the applicant institution and the Program Director (PD) have been working hard to develop a program in stem cell biology at the undergraduate level. Reviewers particularly highlighted the educational value of the 16-week lab course students will take prior to their research experience and the 6-month research project students will complete prior to their internship. However, reviewers had serious concerns about internships of only 7 months duration. They questioned whether this is enough time to accomplish any significant research and wondered whether 12 months in a host laboratory would have been better than 6 months in a home laboratory followed by 7 months at a host laboratory. One reviewer would have liked to see some linkage in projects between home and host laboratories so students would be working on related research. Another reviewer commented that the program gives the appearance of trying to support the aspirations of the home faculty to develop their research programs, possibly at the expense of the students. Reviewers commented that the strong mentoring of the trainee during the internship was a strength of the program. They noted that each trainee has multiple mentors: the program director, the home mentor, internship mentor and the host institutes intern coordinator. The trainee meets monthly with the internship mentor as well as the intern coordinator. Reviewers noted that there were currently 48 laboratories for internships although the internships were very unequally distributed among the four host institutions. A reviewer noted that the choice of laboratories at one host institution (largest number of host labs) was good from the standpoint of the ease with which the students will be able to commute and the strength of the stem cell research programs there. Reviewers expressed concern that the criteria used to select host mentors was not clear. They were specifically interested in whether the host mentors were selected based on their past training records with undergraduates. Reviewers considered this particularly important given the short internship period. The reviewers found the outreach program of putting stem cell modules into biology classes for non-majors to be very good; the introductory biology class is taken by a large number of non-majors and will reach many people. There appears to be a strong commitment on the part of the home institution to support the program. There is a strong letter of support from the president but no strong sense of what the home institution is willing to do other than house the program. Reviewers commented that the home institution has a strong track-record of training in cell biology and molecular biology, has a large minority student population, and ranks highly for preparing students for future doctoral study. The home institution has already made an investment in stem cell training and provided basic equipment and material needs for two classes related to stem cell biology. The institution and the PD have developed courses and a program for students to study stem-cell biology at the undergraduate level, and the PD has obtained further funds through an NSF grant to support the undergraduate stem cell training initiative. The Biology department currently has 4 externally funded undergraduate research training programs in place, so it is clear that the department is committed to training of undergraduates in research. The partner institutions provide outstanding opportunities for stem cell research. The PD is an assistant professor who will put 19% effort into this program. Reviewers all agreed that she/he is highly qualified to serve as Program Director for this training program. She/he has mentored an impressive number of students in independent research projects, developed and taught a stem cell laboratory course, serves as PI on an NSF grant to develop stem cell protocols for use in undergraduate labs, and serves on state-wide committee on stem cell education. Reviewers expressed significant concern as to whether the PD is being mentored adequately and what the impact of this additional responsibility might be on tenure prospects. One reviewer suggested that this was a personal career decision, but another reviewer would have liked a statement from the dean as to the importance of this program and the importance of the proposed person as PD. The Advisory Committees have appropriate representation, except that there is no person listed from one host institution (although there is a letter of support suggesting established involvement with the home institution). Reviewers found the mechanisms for the recruitment of qualified and diverse program participants and their placement in internships to be well described. They considered the pool of potential applicants to be likely large, but noted that the applicant institution did not explicitly address the likelihood of being able to recruit 10 students per year. A detailed assessment plan is provided that uses multiple criteria for program evaluation. Overall, while reviewers were enthusiastic about the curriculum, the internship opportunities and the PD, their concerns about the term of the internship and the criteria for selection of the host mentors somewhat dampened their enthusiasm for this program.