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Thanks to funding from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative known as Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), two talented undergraduate students from Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Roman Catholic college in the United States, are in Hanover this summer to participate in Dartmouth’s Academic Summer Undergraduate Resource Experience (ASURE) program.
The BUILD initiative consists of a set of experimental training awards issued to undergraduate institutions with fewer than $7.5 million in total NIH research project grant funding and a geographically and racially diverse population. NIH’s goal is to broaden the pool of students participating in biomedical research opportunities and maximize opportunities for research training and faculty/staff development. Dartmouth is one of ten research-intensive institutions partnering with Xavier University of Louisiana.
Zachary Laborde, who plans to pursue graduate work studying artificial neural networks, will be based in Professor Todd Heatherton’s social brain sciences laboratory.
Hakeem Brooke, who has aspirations for an MD/PhD, will be working in the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory directed by Professor Luke Chang.
Dr. Jeremy Cohen, Neuroscience Professor at Xavier University of Louisiana is very excited for his two students. “Both are part of Xavier’s BUILD program designed to increase the involvement of underrepresented minorities in research,” he says, which supports the school’s primary mission of creating a more just and humane society. “Both have inquisitive minds and are strategic problem solvers. The Dartmouth ASURE program will capitalize on their strong research skills and offer each of them the experience of an environment rich with top flight research resources.”
ASURE focuses not just on academic research, but also networking, and mentoring to prepare students for future graduate research training. Since the program launched on campus five years ago, more than three-dozen students have participated. This year close to 900 undergraduates applied to the program – just nine were admitted. Once the cohort members arrive on campus and transition into dorms, they will work full time in their assigned labs. According to Assistant Dean of Recruiting and Diversity Jane Seibel, “Our ultimate goal is to have these exceptionally promising students see Dartmouth as a place where they would like be to pursue their Ph.D.”
Graduate student mentors play a crucial role in ASURE’s success. Professor Heatherton’s senior graduate student Rich Lopez will serve as Laborde’s mentor. Lopez will work closely with Laborde to train him in all aspects of designing, running, and analyzing studies in the psychological and brain sciences. “There will be one study I will help Zach get off the ground,” Lopez says. “Hopefully he will then take strong ownership of it and present findings at the Leadership Alliance Symposium or at our on-campus poster session.”
Lopez decided to become involved as an ASURE mentor because he participated in a similar summer research program as an undergraduate. “The hands-on research experience I obtained being paired with a wonderful mentor who took time to invest in me crystallized my research interests and career trajectory,” explains Lopez. “I sincerely hope Zach and I will keep in touch while he finishes his undergraduate schooling. I would be happy to serve as a mentor and supporter for him over the years, as he forms his own identity and goals as a young scholar.”