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Fellows Leslie Torres '18 and Kiloni Quiles-Franco '18 have benefited from the IMSD Program. (Colleen Locke/UMass Boston)
June 20, 2018

UMass Boston receives $1.3 million NIH grant to increase diversity in biomedical research workforce


  • Boston
Initiative for maximizing student development first funded in 2008

The National Institutes of Health has awarded biology professors Rachel Skvirsky and Adán Colón-Carmona an additional five-year $1.3 million grant to continue their work preparing undergraduate students at UMass Boston for PhD programs and careers in the biomedical research industry.

The Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program, which was first funded by NIH in 2008, is a research-intensive, skill-building mentoring program that seeks to increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce at the PhD level.

The program has two overall goals. The first is to provide a comprehensive mentoring and research training program to undergraduate students from underrepresented minority or disadvantaged backgrounds so they are exceptionally prepared and highly motivated to enter PhD or MD-PhD programs in the biomedical sciences. The second, broader goal is to catalyze institutional changes that enhance the overall research training environment in the sciences for these undergraduate students.

"IMSD helps students like me gain exposure to the rigors of research quite early in our undergraduate program," said IMSD fellow Kiloni Quiles-Franco '18, who will enter a PhD program at Boston University School of Medicine in the fall. "Because of this, I've seen myself and fellow members of the IMSD develop and thrive as students, as researchers, and as professionals entering the workforce."

IMSD fellows participate in a range of training activities that include guided research experiences; intensive mentoring; networking events with scientists from diverse backgrounds; and workshops on communication in science, ethical conduct of science, issues facing minorities and women in science, and other aspects of research careers. 

Since 2008, the IMSD program has served and provided funding for 97 students. Former participants have received PhD degrees from Duke University and Tufts University; 16 others are currently pursuing PhDs at schools such as the University of Michigan, Brown University, and Brandeis University, and a MD/PhD at UCLA.

Leslie Torres '18 will begin a PhD program at UMass Medical School in the fall.

"As an immigrant, the mentorship, support, and guidance I have received through IMSD has helped me develop a sense of belonging and community in science that I had not found before. IMSD has empowered me to pursue my goal of receiving a quality professional education in the biomedical sciences, and through its career and personal development initiatives has equipped me to better navigate the pressures of building a career in STEM," Torres said. 

During the next 5-year grant period, 18 undergraduates from UMass Boston will participate as IMSD fellows. Current UMass Boston undergraduates in science majors can apply year-round to become an IMSD fellow by contacting professors Skvirsky or Colón-Carmona or IMSD Program Manager Claudia Heske. IMSD activities such as the Annual Sciences Graduate Fair are open to all interested science majors.