My Undergraduate Research Experience with ASCEND at Morgan State University

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What is the undergraduate research experience like for ASCEND students at Morgan State University (MSU)? ASCEND, MSU's NIH-supported BUILD program, is designed as a student-centered model aiming to develop an entrepreneurial research culture for students. The variety of opportunities offered by the Student Training Core and the Research Enrichment Core ranges from single-session workshops to a two-year ASCEND Scholars program. For research enthusiasts—and even those slightly curious who want to learn more about researchASCEND has supported the establishment of a student organization, namely the Student Research Center (SRC), dedicated to enhancing the research experience for undergraduate students. Here are some of our students’ stories.


Funmilayo Omole

As a freshman coming to MSU, Funmilayo Omole believes she did not know anything relating to research but realized that she needed help build her resume, apply to internships, and become a professional. While she was doing well with her academics during the first year, she sought opportunities for research experience and volunteer work to become a well-rounded student. That was when she came across the Student Research Center (SRC).


Ms. Funmilayo Omole“I knew I wanted to be a researcher, and the SRC caught my attention immediately, because it has a beautiful setup and there are areas where students can study, print, use GRE books, and socialize with other students interested in research. There were many community services events, workshops, as well as professional and fun events filled throughout the month. I finally became an active member and was granted the opportunity to go on a retreat at Deep Creek to learn more about leadership and teamwork, where we also planned out events for the upcoming school year. These experiences were awesome!”


Through the SRC, Funmi was able to successfully apply to the ASCEND Summer Research Institute (SRI), and, at the end of the program, she was one of the 19 students selected as an ASCEND Scholar.


“As a Scholar, we have to commit two years of our school time to the program, and take the course provided that helps with writing proposals and working in groups. In my group, our project focused on the biomedical relevance on sleep deprivation in rats. During my first year of the program, I also had the chance to go the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Phoenix, Arizona. This was a great opportunity to meet minority students, network, find and apply to graduate school programs, and attended scientific sessions. I observed presenters and speakers and I knew I was made for research where I can write proposals, explain the literature, experiment and present what I have done, and contribute to public health.”

Funmi has maintained her status as an active SRC member and continues her contributions and involvements with the activities. These include workshops, community service, mentoring, and research competitions.

“I saw flyers about the Health Research Concepts Competition, which is a research competition designed by the SRC to design my own study. The SRC staff and the workshops were extremely useful to get me ready to compete. I knew I wanted to do something that can include my interest in microbiology and bacteriophages. So, I came up with an abstract titled, “Athlete’s Health Safety Study: Identifying Potential Bacterial Threats at a Gymnasium Facility at Morgan State University.” With further help from my research mentor, I was able to make it to the final stage of the competition and am just a few steps away from getting funded."

Today, Funmilayo Omole believes that ASCEND programs have prepared her in many ways: opening doors to many experiences throughout the school year, preparing for graduate school, getting hands-on quality research experience, building a strong CV, and developing leadership skills.


“I will always remember, I am no longer an average student, and will always strive for greatness.”

Raquel Shortt

Joining the SRC was the catalyst Raquel Shortt needed for her growth as an undergraduate researcher. She believes the SRC provides an auxiliary support structure that continuously motivates her to strive past mediocrity, facilitates the manifestation of students’ individual skillsets, and gives a safe and collaborative space for scholars to feed off of each others’ positive energy.


Dr. Kadir Aslan and Ms. Raquel Shortt“The network and resources available for SRC members reinforces the level of excellence that is demanded from the program. For example, the Health Research Concept Competition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for undergraduate researchers to show their intellectual research capacity. I was pre-exposed to what graduate level researchers do. Executing a preconceived research experiment and presenting the results prepared me for research at the next level. If it were not for the SRC and HRCC I would not be the scientist I am today.”


Raquel is one of the top-ranking winners of the Health Research Concepts Competition, and she used the funding to conduct her own research titled “How Amygdalin Could Save Lives.” Through the SRC, Raquel was also able to present her work at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). This provided her with a unique opportunity that helped her network with a wide variety of schools where she could undertake a PhD in her area of interest and meet personally with a number of program directors.


“Being able to work on this research as an independent researcher looks great for when I'm applying to graduate school—being able to conceive of a project. To be able to complete the project and present results within a couple months span is very impressive and makes one stand out when applying to graduate schools.”


At the SRC, students with shared research interests are encouraged to form their own student-run specialty clubs, and Raquel is the co-president of the S.M.A.R.T Club, which encourages students to explore the world of STEM by cultivating knowledge on applied research techniques, supporting involved students via mentorship in proposal writing, research writing, and guiding students in qualitative research.


“I encourage all students to become members of the SRC and take advantage of the various opportunities. All scholars who are experienced in research should submit a proposal for the HRCC. It is an unfathomable experience for an undergraduate, and it will elevate you to the next level. I am thankful and grateful for the experiences I was privileged with through the SRC. They are shaking the building and making a positive change for the School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences and Morgan State University as a whole.”

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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