BLaST RAHI Research Continues On

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By Amy Topkok

In a typical summer, the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI), an undergraduate bridge program offered to seniors and juniors in high school from all over Alaska, invites a group of roughly 50 students from around the state to the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) campus for a six-week long immersion into college life. Students take a full load of college courses, live in the dorms, and explore Interior Alaska.

Annually, a portion of these students participate in “RAHI Research,” a collaboration between RAHI and the Biomedical Learning and Student Training program (BLaST) at UAF. When COVID-19 hit this spring, a call went out to the selected RAHI Research students asking them if they would still be interested in participating if RAHI was offered online. Eight motivated students from seven communities around Alaska said “yes,” and embarked on six weeks of intensive online learning and hands-on research.

The RAHI Research students each completed nine to 12 college credits including BLaST’s BMSC 214: Introduction to Biomedical Research, with Research Advising and Mentoring Professionals (RAMPs) Emily Sousa and Theresa Vertigan, and BMSC 224: Entering Research, with RAMPs Andrew Cyr, Ellen Chenoweth, and Natalia Podlutskaya. Students spent countless hours in Zoom classrooms discussing research design, chemistry, stable isotopes, biomedical research ethics, and developing research questions. Outside of class time, they spent long hours in their own communities collecting data, all while dealing with challenges associated with distance learning and observing pandemic guidelines.

At the end of the semester, the students presented their research in three posters to the RAHI, UAF, and BLaST communities titled: 

“The Comparison of 𝛅13C and 𝛅15N Between Coastal and Non-Coastal Regions of Alaska”
“Comparing 𝛅13C and 𝛅15N values of Mt. Edgecumbe students during the school year and at home”
“Comparing δ13C and δ15N of Alaskan and Non-Alaskan Harvested Foods”

The students’ methods included sampling fingernails from RAHI participants, Mount Edgecumbe high school students, and RAHI instructors to gather their data, and analyzed the stable isotope ratios or chemical composition of foods that they chose to sample from their own communities and their own fingernails. They learned how these ratios can be measured and used to infer information about diets, food chains and climate where foods originated. They then developed research questions around these topics and tested their predictions. Many of the students expressed that their experiences enriched and widened their understanding of biomedical research and how they can apply it to their own communities.

Every year, RAHI Research is a fun but challenging endeavor. This group of students who participated in the program went above and beyond and the BLaST program commends them for their hard work! Check out RAHI at:, and BLaST at: 

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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