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By Amy Topkok
The Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLaST) Program, located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has created a supportive, tiered group mentoring approach to increase undergraduate student academic success, and engage students, especially Alaska Native and those from rural communities, in biomedical research. BLaST provides a holistic approach to mentoring and offers several eight-hour trainings per academic year, in addition to monthly mentoring discussion groups for mentors, as well as professional development workshops for undergraduates.
“I think that BLaST is an amazing organization that provides opportunities to students that wouldn't otherwise be available. After writing the grant proposal, going through the process of planning and conducting the research, reading scientific studies, and analyzing data and presenting my information, I feel much more confident to pursue a master's degree or other work opportunities in the future as a result,” Rebekah Reams (Green), said. Reams, who graduated in December 2018 with a BA in biological sciences, was a undergraduate research experience trainee in the BLaST program.
While trainings are focused on meeting the needs of over 100 faculty and graduate mentors involved with the BLaST program, anyone is encouraged to attend, including participants from rural and new partner campuses. Guest speakers from diverse organizations and academic fields within biomedical research are invited to present, and BLaST staff mentors, Research Advising and Mentoring Professionals (RAMPs), facilitate workshops. These workshops have focused on strategies for effective mentoring, improving leadership skills, providing spaces for difficult dialogues, discussing scientific ethics, cultural competency and racial equity.
For Gladys Erhart, a current Scholar, the supportive environment BLaST creates has made an impact in her education.
“BLaST has been an enormous help this semester. It has been the roughest semester I've had while attending college. All the staff working with the program has been amazingly helpful and very kind. Thank you for all that you do for the students and researchers in the BLaST program!” Erhart said. She is currently a second year student in the biological sciences.
Currently, BLaST has sponsored 28 professional development workshops during the past four and a half years, including 15 mentoring workshops.
The RAMPs position is an innovation developed by the BLaST program, which incorporates numerous academic positions into a single, unique position.. RAMPs holistically mentor undergraduate students and serve the student population through their efforts of connecting with rural and Alaska Native/Native American students. They offer comprehensive advising, tutoring, and research support and also facilitate undergraduate professional development workshops where students can discuss and explore a variety of mentor-related topics.
“BLaST feels like a home to me now, it is very nice having an environment I feel welcomed and pushed further to achieve my goals.” Samantha Wade said. Wade is a first year biological sciences student, and a BLaST Scholar. “I am so very thankful to be a part of the BLaST program for helping me in college and furthering my academics. Not as many scholarships are out there where you are ultimately brought into a community of help and support. Thank you to the faculty, RAMPs, staff, and students of BLaST,” she added.
These efforts are valuable in increasing the success of those that may not have otherwise entered into the biomedical and research fields in Alaska or from rural communities within the BLaST partner campuses.
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.