March 8, 2016

Wayne State receives $3.6M NIH grant to increase number of underrepresented students in science majors

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year grant of more than $3.6 million that will continue to support the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program at Wayne State University.

Rasheeda Zafar (far right), program coordinator for the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, said the IMSD is a catalyst for institutional changes that enhance the future success of all STEM and biomedical science students.

The WSU-IMSD program, established in 1978 with NIH support as the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program, was developed and has been led by Joseph Dunbar, Ph.D., associate vice president for research at Wayne State, along with Rasheeda Zafar, Ph.D., the program’s coordinator. WSU-IMSD’s goals are to facilitate the entry, persistence and success of significant numbers of underrepresented minority students into science majors, ultimately guiding them to pursue careers in academics and scientific research. 

According to Dunbar, many undergraduate students that are exceptionally talented and high-achieving — particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds, first-generation college students, and/or underrepresented minority students — lack the academic tools, persistence, confidence and developmental mentoring necessary to persist effectively in a college environment.

“Many of these students are left behind or drift and become emotionally disengaged in their studies, resulting in them dropping out, changing majors or pursuing careers that are ‘convenient’ and easier to obtain,” said Dunbar. “Our goal with the IMSD program has been to integrate research into the basic fabric of their scholarly activities while at Wayne State, giving them a focused and supportive structure to build their skills and confidence, ultimately allowing them to achieve their goals and ambitions.” 

The impact of the program over the years has been significant, with IMSD student graduation rates at 87 percent, compared to 21 percent for the comparison group of underrepresented minority, non-IMSD students at WSU with comparable high school GPAs and ACT scores. In addition, 64 percent of the IMSD students have gone on to pursue further degrees, compared to just 11 percent of the comparison group. 

“Participating in undergraduate research through the IMSD program has been a proven success for our students,” said Zafar. “Taking part in undergraduate research not only promotes critical thinking skills but also promotes creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork and a sense of belonging, all of which are important as we move forward in the 21st century. The IMSD program is a catalyst for not only student success, but institutional changes that enhance the success of all STEM and biomedical science students in the future.”

“The IMSD program has been a great success because of Joe Dunbar’s leadership of the program, as well as Zafar’s expertise,” said Gloria Heppner, Ph.D., associate vice president for research at Wayne State. “They have done a superb job of bringing together faculty and students to create a personalized experience that focuses on merging academics and research to a diverse student population. Their program is a role model for many universities and reflects how student development and, ultimately, success is increased when students are involved in other academic activities such as research rather than being the passive recipient of knowledge.”

The award number for this National Institutes of Health grant is R25GM058905.


Julie O'Connor
Phone: 313-577-8845

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