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Educational Innovation Shines On
CHORI Pioneers Inter-Institutional Research Training in Diverse Populations

CHORI has long been a leader in diversity training, providing NIH-funded summer training internships to students of diverse backgrounds for nearly 2 decades. Now, CHORI is branching out to work with out-of-state universities in order to reach interested students who would otherwise have limited research opportunities.

"One group that has often been overlooked, for whatever reasons, maybe even simply because of not being able to go too far away from their homes, is the Native American population," says CHORI scientist Vasanthy Narayanaswami, PhD, who directs CHORI's Summer Basic Research Program.

For the previous two summers, however, CHORI has been helping reach this population by providing two Zuni students from the University of New Mexico (UNM) at Albuquerque with research opportunities on-site through the Summer Research Program. Both students wanted to continue with research for another year this summer, but they felt they couldn't leave New Mexico for yet another summer.

Recognizing the issue as a potentially consistent barrier to improving Native American access to research opportunities, and reluctant to let these two bright and promising young students fend for themselves, Dr. Narayanaswami was determined to find a solution.

"I thought maybe we could actually have a long distance partnership that would solve this problem" explains Dr. Narayanaswami.

By working with Dr. Valerie Romero-Leggott , Associate Dean, Office of Diversity at the University of New Mexico (UNM), and Dr. Bertram Lubin, CHORI President and Director of Medical Research, Dr. Narayanaswami was able to identify two mentors at UNM who were willing to work with the students in New Mexico instead of in California.

UNM was an eager partner, having few research opportunities for their undergraduates themselves, while also recognizing the mutual benefits of developing a strong relationship with a reputed research organization such as CHORI.

As a result, CHORI's two Native American students will be able to participate in the CHORI program by undertaking a 9-week project at UNM that parallels the CHORI Summer Research Program projects. With the help of their UNM mentors, they will also participate in seminars, grand rounds, presentations and lab meetings. In addition, CHORI will fly them out twice during the program, to partake in group presentations, meet their peers, and to present the results of their research project in the final Symposium.

While this summer will be the first time the long-distance partnership is implemented, Dr. Narayanaswami hopes the idea takes off and that CHORI can carve out a niche in providing this unique opportunity for Native American students.

"Dr. Valerie Romero-Leggott is working to identify other students who would like to participate, and our participants are doing the same as well," says Dr. Narayanaswami. "I'm hoping we can have three or four students working with us every summer from New Mexico."

The greatest advocates of the partnership are, not surprisingly, the students themselves. Mallery Quetawki, now in her junior year at UNM, is one of the two students participating this summer.

"I have missed our summer solstice festivities in Zuni for two years running because I've been participating in the CHORI summer program in Oakland," she explains. "This year I just needed to be close to home. I had such a great experience with the program and wanted so badly to come back, so I'm really thankful that this was able to happen."

Ms. Quetawki plans to pursue a medical career, and hopes to practice family medicine or rural medicine, with the long-range goal of serving the rural reservation areas in New Mexico. Without the CHORI Summer Research Program, however, she might never have actualized that desire.

"The CHORI program has shined a light on my path," she says. "This program has assured me that this is what I want to do for a living."

No doubt under the continued innovative leadership of Dr. Narayanaswami, the CHORI Summer Research Program and its unique partnership will be shining that light for many more Native American students to come.

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Monday, May 16, 2011 11:33 PM

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