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Field Education Office Professional Development Workshop

BSW Cording & MSW Hooding

IMG 139903.10.2016

Dr. Sue Levkoff is the recent recipient of an R25 grant from the National Institute on Aging, one of the institutes of the National Institutes of Health. An R25 grant, she explains, is a research education grant, and this one will allow her to provide undergraduate students from five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in South Carolina with research training in aging, medicine, and STEM at UofSC. Levkoff has the active involvement of several UofSC faculty including: Dr. Alan White, Associate Dean for Undergraduate STEM Education for the College of Arts and Sciences, who has been a leader in the field of science education and will help ensure that the training program meets the educational needs of the participating students; Dr. Jenay Beer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Sciences and Engineering and College of Social Work; Dr. Shaun Owens, Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work; Sudie Nallo, Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work; and Dr. Lauren Clark, Research Manager in the UofSC Office of Research. A long-time colleague of Levkoff from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Hongtu Chen, serves as the outside evaluator for the program.

IMG 1406The overall goal of the SC-ADAR program is to increase the number of qualified underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students who pursue scientific graduate studies in programs focused on science and aging. The components of the SC-ADAR include: two ten-week summer research training programs, in which selected students will work in a lab under the mentorship of a UofSC faculty member, participate in courses developed specifically for the program to introduce students to the basic biological and social theories of aging, attend professional development seminars offered by the UofSC Office of Research, and engage in networking events with other students participating in summer National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates programs at UofSC. The summer program is a full-time residential program, with students being paid a stipend and living in campus housing. The SC-ADAR summer will culminate in a poster presentation at UofSC Summer Research Day.

IMG 1394Levkoff cites the valuable input of coordinators at the HBCUs in nominating students to apply for the program. After a competitive application process, a cohort of eight students, hailing from Allen University, Benedict College, Claflin University, and Morris College, was chosen. Eight new students will be selected each year for the five years covered by the R25 grant funding.

The SC-ADAR is “completely interdisciplinary,” which is Levkoff’s modus operandi. “For over 30 years as a social scientist faculty member at Harvard Medical School, I have collaborated with physicians on various research studies and educational training programs,” she says, so she’s accustomed to, and enjoys working with, people in other fields. “The opportunity with the SC-ADAR is to take those interdisciplinary skills, working across disciplines and bringing people together” and turn them into wonderful research training opportunities. Levkoff reached out to many UofSC schools and departments, including medicine, nursing, public health, and computer science and engineering, in order to identify research mentors willing to accept students into their labs and offer them experiences in research. From the resulting list of faculty labs, students were able to choose what interested them most. The matching process ensures that students are paired with a project and mentor that best fit their interests and goals; likewise, it allows faculty members to choose students who they believe would be the best fit for their lab.

The program extends past the two summer research experiences, though. Levkoff explains, “each student has two co-mentors, one at UofSC who will serve as the primary mentor during the summer research training, and one at the HBCU, who will serve as the primary mentor during the academic year between the two summer sessions.” When students return to their home institutions for their junior year, they will meet with their HBCU mentors, who will serve as “cheerleaders” to encourage the students’ sustained interest and enthusiasm in research and in pursuing graduate school education in the sciences or health professions. The HBCU mentors will also offer hands-on support with the application process for graduate training, all of which Levkoff hopes will lead to students pursuing careers in academic medicine and/or STEM fields as they relate to aging. Levkoff is especially proud of the proposed co-mentoring model, and hopes that those HBCU co-mentors who wish to collaborate on aging –related research with UofSC mentors will have the support to do so through the SC-ADAR program.

Providing this training in research is a calling for Dr. Levkoff. She notes that although her focus is primarily research, “I see myself as an educator, and the most important thing I can do as a professor is train the next generation.” She cites the immense privilege of having a strong educational background as her motivation. “It’s my turn to give back,” she says, and ensure that minority students have access to the mentors, education, and research opportunities that they might not otherwise have.

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