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Jonathan Schisler, PhD, Leon Coleman, MD, PhD, and Ben Philpot, PhD, at the UNC School of Medicine, were awarded a five-year, $675,000 grant to lead a summer undergraduate experience program promoting neuropharmacology and neurobiological disease research to be conducted by students from underrepresented groups.

The Carolina Summer Fellows Program (CSFP) in the UNC Department of Pharmacology at the UNC School of Medicine has provided summer research experiences for many undergraduate students, with a high level of success in retaining these students in academic and STEM careers for the past 40 years.

This year, Jonathan Schisler, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and member of the McAllister Heart Institute; Leon Coleman, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology; and Ben Philpot, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology and UNC Neuroscience Center associate director, have been awarded a five-year, $675,000 grant for a summer undergraduate experience program promoting neuropharmacology and neurobiological disease research.

Sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), this award well help support the new CSFP-Neuro program with undergraduates, especially underrepresented individuals, with high-quality summer research experiences. Schisler said this program will help leverage the strength of faculty who are focused on neurological disease and neuropharmacology and establish partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions to provide more experience and opportunities for underrepresented individuals interested in neuroscience research.

“We will provide undergraduates with high-quality summer research experiences focused on the neurobiology of disease with faculty in the Department of Pharmacology and the UNC Neuroscience Center,” said Schisler. “Each of our faculty and bench mentors will receive specialized training in mentoring to foster inclusive learning environments, recognize implicit biases, and enhance cross-cultural communication.”

NINDS recently developed the OPEN strategy to increase the percentage of underrepresented individuals in neuroscience research. The strategy includes summer research experiences that target underrepresented undergraduate students to attract and equip them for careers in the field. Schisler said that in addition to these research experiences, CSFP will provide scientific and career mentoring, career development, networking activities, and professional development designed to attract summer students to careers in neuroscience and provide a framework for successful entry into graduate school.

“Our program has a long track record of implementing these career and professional development programs to benefit students,” said Schisler. “Further, to increase the retention of our students in neuroscience research career paths, we will offer ongoing mentoring, professional development, and preparation for graduate school applications after the summer research experience. This multipronged approach is uniquely designed to help students in our program gain the tools, experience, and support they need to increase their success in neuroscience research careers.”

Schisler said that six years ago CSFP had been refocused to increase underrepresented student participation in summer research experiences, establish lifelong mentorship, and build support networks. Since then, the program has trained 30 underrepresented students through the CSFP, with students that subsequently matriculated into master’s, doctoral, and medical programs nationwide.

“Undergraduate research experiences can be truly transformative for those who participate; it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities,” said Henrik G. Dohlman, PhD, Sanford Steelman Distinguished Professor and chair of the UNC Department of Pharmacology. “Some students have grown up in truly devastating circumstances. For the grad students and postdocs who serve as mentors, the experience is very rewarding,”