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BUILD EXITO just wrapped up the academic year by celebrating the work of first round of Pilot Projects recipients. The ten researchers awarded this funding went through a competitive process and were awarded up to 50K to work on a new research project over the past year. By design, the Pilot Project funding process, mirrored after the NIH RO3 process, provided newer researchers with a mentored experience of developing project proposals and responding to reviewer feedback. Although seed money provided to these PIs covers only a portion of the costs to operate and sustain a lab, the application process provided invaluable insight and built grant writing capacity that can be translated into future funding opportunities with larger NIH or NSF grants.
All applicants had to demonstrate detailed plans for involving undergraduate students in research projects and the strength of their proposal was judged, in part, by their mentoring plan for these students. As a result, a diverse group of passionate and skilled researchers have been engaging in cutting edge research while mentoring EXITO Scholars.
We recently had a chance to talk with one awardee, Dr. Mitch Cruzan, and learned he has been able to significantly increase his lab's capacity and team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers as a result of this funding. An EXITO Scholar is one of the undergraduate student researchers on the lab team. Her reflection on entering the lab offers candid insight of how the mentorship process is cultivated within the Pilot Project hubs:
“[Before starting at the Cruzan Lab] I thought the lab was this scary, unknown, yet exciting thing where I wasn’t sure if someone like me really belonged. It seemed out of reach for that reason. I feared failure or disappointment and felt like I should overcompensate.
Since then, I’ve had mentorship from the grad student I work with, Jaime. Jaime has always been willing to share the background concepts behind the project we’ve been on together. It creates an environment of learning. Every time a new challenge, method, or idea comes along, it’s a learning opportunity rather than a fearful experience or failure. Dr. Cruzan makes sure he checks in with everyone in the lab, and that involvement has helped me create my own self-awareness of my progress.
I understand I am someone who belongs. I just have to accept it!”
Scholars working on other Pilot Projects are having similarly impactful experiences and are learning a lot of important skills to prepare them for future careers in research. This process is revealing that pairing seed money for new projects with institutional support and mentorship--at all levels--goes a long way to growing a legacy of researchers who are welcomed into research environments and given a chance to learn and grow. We look forward to continuing to share about these amazing Scholars and researchers in the future!
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.