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CCRI joins network of state colleges in federally-funded research collaborative

Oct. 31, 2019

Spearheaded by a $20 million grant from the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), the Community College of Rhode Island is now part of a select network of state colleges, providing both students and faculty members with exclusive access to unparalleled opportunities in the research field. 

INBRE is a federally-funded collaborative effort among partner institutions that selects highly-qualified undergraduates to pursue original biomedical research within multiple academic laboratories. The long-term goal of promoting better research techniques and encouraging more collaborative efforts among research professionals is to improve the overall quality of care for patients in the healthcare industry. Advancements in the biomedical research field are a step in the right direction.

The University of Rhode Island originally applied for the INBRE grant five years ago as the state’s lead institution and reapplied this past year with CCRI added for the first time as one of the seven partner institutions, a list that also includes Brown University, Bryant University, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University.

What this means for CCRI is the college can now send students interested in participating in research projects to any of the partner institutions to work with experts in the field as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, all of which is funded through the grant.

Biology Department Chair Christine Turenius-Bell – who, along with Lauren Webb, the former Interim Dean for Business, Science, Technology & Math, led the effort to get CCRIadded to Rhode Island’s INBRE’s inner circle – says the partnership serves two constructive purposes: It will help whet students’ appetites for research and promote faculty development.

Students who otherwise might not have the opportunity to participate in a research project can now work with professionals at other institutions to determine whether they want to pursue this as a career path. By participating in important laboratory research in addition to learning from professors who have networked with fellow mentors from the partnering institutions, CCRI students in the biomedical field will have a leg up on others as they continue their education.

“Our role is to create a pool of candidates to filter them out to those four-year universities,” Turenius-Bell said. “What we’ve found is undergraduates are all too often transferring to four-year colleges without the necessary tools to become juniors who understand research methods or research techniques. The students who have been through the SURF program are head and shoulders above others who have not gone through it, including students who are coming from the other partner institutions.

“That’s fairly close to my heart. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college when I had the opportunity to participate in a research project and it just completely changed my career path.”

Faculty can also work with fellow research professionals at any of the aforementioned colleges by either bringing their classes to another facility to observe research methods, or brainstorming with colleagues to update and improve their own curriculum.

“The faculty bringing new information to our students are elevating the quality of our courses,” Turenius-Bell said. “We need to stay ahead of the curve with what is going on in the industry and in research. We need to keep our students up to date.”

CCRI’s first INBRE cohort begins this summer. Students are encouraged to apply now to meet the February deadline. To qualify for SURF, students must first identify a research mentor at a partner institution and communicate with them directly to pitch an idea for a project. Research proposals are submitted to the INBRE steering committee, which then makes the final approval. Students and research mentors also receive a stipend.

“The idea,” Turenius-Bell said, “is to give students a taste of proper research and hopefully bring them into those four-year institutions with a more coherent idea of what they want to do for the next two years along with the guidance at those four-year universities on how to move along on that career path, too.”

An additional benefit for CCRI is the operator-assisted access to equipment. Faculty can bring students to another lab to work with state-of-the-art equipment or potentially acquire equipment no longer being used at one of the partner institutions.

The INBRE partnership serves a dual purpose in providing the necessary opportunities for students to prepare themselves for life beyond CCRI in addition to encouraging faculty to enhance the caliber of their curriculum. With better networking and increased collaborative efforts between industry professionals, INBRE partnerships could eventually facilitate groundbreaking developments in the biomedical research field.

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