Illinois-Morehouse Summer Genomics Institute Proposed
Based on discussions at the first annual RCN meeting, RCN members Duane Jackson, Morehouse College, and Gene Robinson, University of Illinois, are developing a proposal to establish a new undergraduate summer program, termed the Illinois-Morehouse Summer Genomics Institute (IMSGI). If approved, IMSGI would be a partnership between Morehouse College and the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Discussions are underway with Spelman College to bring its students in the program as well. The IMSGI Program would establish a week-long summer institute that introduces students to the world of genomic research. Undergraduates would have the opportunity to participate in the academic, laboratory, and social environment of a major research institution to encourage them to envision a future career in genomics as an attractive goal.
Up to twenty-five rising sophomores and juniors would travel to the UIUC campus for the week-long summer course. They would experience a rich variety of activities, including presentations by faculty, laboratory exercises, and Socratic discussions that introduce them to genomics. Departmental panels, mealtime discussions, and laboratory tours that help them form a picture of what careers in research look like. Opportunities to socialize in informal settings with researchers from the IGB and other campus units, particularly graduate students, will further enhance their experience. An innovative part of the program is that the IMSGI would be coordinated by an UIUC graduate student affiliated with the IGB, who would be supported by a one-year research assistantship. The student coordinator would receive programmatic support from IGB Communications and Outreach staff members, as well as by IGB faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students. In this way, IGB graduate students and postdocs will become heavily involved in STEM programming and undergraduate mentoring.
Genomics offers a two-fold advantage as the central focus of a short, intense summer research experience for undergraduates curious about research careers. First, the scientific questions that genomics explores appeal broadly to students from many different majors. Second, as participating students discover shared interests that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries, they will experience the thrill of making the cross disciplinary connections that genomics research promotes. The academic environment of the IGB exemplifies the multidisciplinary nature of genomics research. IGB faculty members are drawn from almost 30 different departments and programs, and it is organized into interdisciplinary, collaborative research groups that are focused around societal challenges that are being addressed through genomics research. As scientific research becomes increasingly multidisciplinary and collaborative, learning about this cutting-edge type of academic environment will be beneficial to training the next generation of scientists, an important goal of the RCN Sociogenomics Initiative.