California State University, Bakersfield students studying in biomedical fields will soon be able to take advantage of a new training program.

Dr. Isabel Sumaya — a psychology professor and interim associate vice president of grants, research and sponsored programs — has been awarded a five-year $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish an Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE) program at CSUB.

Through U-RISE, eight biology, chemistry, psychology and kinesiology students will receive training in the biomedical sciences through research, course work, service-learning opportunities and faculty mentoring to help sharpen their knowledge and skills in preparation for pursuing a doctoral degree in their field.

“I’m so excited to get started. This is going to change the lives of our students,” Dr. Sumaya said. “The ultimate goal of the program is for the students to be competitive for entrance into Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences.”

Although the number of diverse student trainees has increased over the years, Dr. Sumaya said they remain underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. To address these needs, U-RISE will help a diverse group of students become expert research scientists who will successfully transition into the biomedical workforce.

The U-RISE program kicks off this fall. Students are partnered with a faculty mentor and will be able to start working in a research lab.

The cornerstone of the program is a new course titled From CSUB to Ph.D., which will educate students on topics such as bioethics and the process of getting into a doctoral program. This course will be available to students in the spring.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring students together so they can learn about what research their peers are doing in their labs leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the field of the biomedical sciences,” Dr. Sumaya said of the course, which will also be made available to students outside of U-RISE in the future. “This expanded perspective will be important when they go on to collaborate with their colleagues as young research scientists.”

Participants are required to stay in the program for a minimum of one year but are encouraged to be in the program for two years, Dr. Sumaya said.

Students who are selected for U-RISE will receive a $14,000 stipend for work they do in the research lab. In addition, the university will pay for about half of students’ tuition each semester. The program will also sponsor a summer research experience at outside institutions for participating students.

‘Good citizens of the science world’

A few CSUB students have already been accepted into the program. Brandon Krieg is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is looking to get his Ph.D. with a focus on neuroscience.

“I’ve always thought it would be the coolest thing to become a scientist,” he said. “Research has always interested me, and joining the U-RISE program has given me the opportunity to pursue exactly that. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s setting me up for things I never imagined were possible.”

Krieg hasn’t had any research experience during his time at CSUB, which was what largely attracted him to the program. This fall, he will be joining other students to research the impact high sugar intake among adolescents has on the likelihood of drug addiction as adults.

“Everybody has an understanding that there’s a lot of sugar in the average person’s diet these days, so it’s important for us to recognize what effect that might have,” he said.

Krieg never thought he would be selected for a program like U-RISE. Having grown up in the Orange County area, he said he often struggled to stand out and be noticed in school.

“The schools there have tremendously high populations, but CSUB is a smaller campus, so I felt like this would be my chance to get recognized, to be found out as someone who could pursue something at this level,” he said. “I’m just so excited to be able to be doing this. I think it’s really going to be a positive experience for me and for other students.”

One of those other students is Andres Orea, who transferred to CSUB in 2020 and is majoring in biology. Orea said he was a little surprised to be selected for U-RISE but is excited to get started.

“This is a nice program that really supports students. A lot of other schools don’t have research opportunities like this,” he said.

Orea said he appreciates the stipend that comes with being in the program, as it will allow him to stay focused on academics and worry less about work. He is joining an organic chemistry lab that is researching enzyme inhibitors and their associations with the development of cancer. 

Orea is looking forward to working with his fellow students in the lab and in the U-RISE program.

“Having the opportunity to work with other students and mentors in this way is amazing,” he said. “Everyone is working together and trying to help each other out.”

Dr. Sumaya hopes students who participate in the U-RISE program will not only get into great doctoral programs but will go on to have a positive impact on the biomedical fields.

“One of the major things we want from the program is we want to train these students to be good citizens of the science world,” she said. “We not only want them to be premier scientists — we want them to show social responsibility in their work, to be ethical, to be able to critically think, to be good citizens of the scientific community who can go out into the world and represent CSUB.”

CSUB is accepting applications for the U-RISE program through Sept. 30. Students must have a 3.2 GPA or above to be eligible for the program. To apply or for more information about U-RISE, contact Dr. Sumaya at 661-900-5280 or isumaya@csub.edu.