News: Featured Stories

July 27, 2018

Grant to pay UMass Boston students to research child and family health


  • Boston
$500K grant will fund UMass Boston undergrads for five summers

Starting in the summer of 2019, and continuing through 2023, UMass Boston students will have the opportunity to apply for a paid summer research experience, exploring maternal, child, and family health alongside faculty mentors. It’s all thanks to a $500,000 R25 grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Faculty from three UMass Boston colleges are part of the “Undergraduate Summer Research Opportunities in Maternal, Child, and Family Health” project. Associate Professor of Psychology S. Tiffany Donaldson, Honors College Associate Dean Megan Rokop, and Professor of Exercise and Health Sciences Richard Fleming (pictured below) are the principal investigators. Associate Professor of Exercise and Health Sciences Ana Lindsay, Associate Professor of Nursing Emily Jones, and Associate Professor of Anthropology Maria Idalí Torres are participating as co-investigators.

“I think it’s really cool that the projects range from wet lab research like Tiffany does, through research that’s really immersed in the community like what Rick and Idalí do – I think it’s different from a lot of other research programs in the sense of the range of students who would be interested in terms of majors and also the types of activities that they could be doing in their project,” Rokop said.

Each summer over the next five years, 12 UMass Boston students will receive a salary of $4,000 to conduct research alongside faculty mentors Donaldson, Fleming, Lindsay, Jones, and Torres for a 10-week period. They will also do community-engaged work, meet together regularly as a cohort, and take field trips. Although the NICHD grant is being administered through the Honors College, the students do not need to be in the Honors College to apply. Minority students, first-generation college students, and students with financial needs are particularly encouraged to apply.

“I think it’s an opportunity to get immersed in science,” Fleming said. “They’re going to be working really closely with faculty on their research projects, writing, recruiting, working with data, meeting with families, so I think that’s an opportunity to get hooked on something and really understand what it’s like to be in the trenches, doing the research.”

A key national strategy for reducing health disparities is to increase the number of scientists and professionals from the African American, Latino, and Native American populations working in health research. Internships and mentoring have been shown to increase both retention rates and the likelihood of pursuing a graduate degree among minority students. As Fleming, Donaldson, and Rokop noted in their grant proposal, a critical area in the workforce pipeline is maternal and child health, where ethnic and racial disparities are associated with infant mortality, low birth weight, childhood obesity, adolescent pregnancy, and youth sexual risk behaviors. With a population made up of 56 percent first-generation students and 33 percent underrepresented minorities, UMass Boston is the ideal place to build that pipeline.

“We have a number of women scientists who are ethnic minorities who are involved, who, in our labs outside of the grant, have attracted students who look like us,” Donaldson said. “We’re hoping to diversify the workforce of people asking these questions around health disparities in maternal, child, and family health.” 

The first applications are due in February 2019. Accepted students will be notified before Spring Break in March. Interested students can contact with questions.