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NMSU rally celebrates professor’s achievements, graduate training program

New Mexico State University Regents Professor Elba Serrano takes great pride in training leaders. Since 2000, more than 320 students have participated in NMSU’s Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), with the program yielding a degree completion rate of more than 90 percent – 60 NMSU RISE students have already earned their doctoral degrees.

NMSU RISE program professors including Elba Serrano, far left, along with RISE students and mentors stand for a group photograph outside Foster Hall. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

“Our goal is to diversify leadership; I believe we train leaders – not just scientists,” Serrano said, describing the program for which she is principal investigator, along with fellow NMSU College of Arts and Sciences biochemistry professor Shelley Lusetti, and biology professor Graciela Unguez.

Serrano spoke at an NMSU Scholarly Excellence Rally Oct. 17, celebrating the achievements of the RISE program.

The purpose of the program is to diversify the community of health scientists by supporting Ph.D. degree completion by students underrepresented in biomedical and biobehavioral research, who are U.S. citizens or residents.

“I train creative thinkers,” she said. “The focus of our program has really been on identifying a talent pool among socio-economically disadvantaged students,” Serrano said. “As a community, we provide the training and professional development. It is simply not enough to show people how to work in the lab. It is important to show students how the system works, and how to move in the world of research.”

Developed by the National Institutes of Health Minority Biomedical Research Support, the RISE program was last year renewed for $3.4 million through July 2018 for training NMSU graduate students in biomedical and biobehavioral research. Serrano has been the principal investigator of NMSU’s program since 2008, taking over from her predecessor, Marvin H. Bernstein.

The program emphasizes student academic achievement, professional development and research training under the supervision of expert faculty mentors.

Currently, NMSU faculty representing four colleges and six departments serve as research mentors for M.S. and Ph.D. students in the NMSU RISE to Excellence Program. Furthermore, academic mentors provide support and training for developmental activities that enhance student academic achievement.

During her presentation, Serrano emphasized that the NMSU MBRS-RISE to the Postdoctorate Program is the only graduate training program of its kind on campus. She credited her colleagues who are co-leaders on the current five-year award, including Jessica Houston (chemical engineering), Tara Gray (criminal justice), William Maio (chemistry), Boris Kiefer (physics), Kathryn Hanley (biology), Karen Villaverde (mathematics) and Peter Cooke (CURRL Lab).

Participation in the program includes workshops, scientific conferences, research seminars, career planning and research internships at partner institutions. Students learn leadership skills by serving as session chairs and providing support for the annual symposia sponsored by RISE and organized by RISE Student Training and Research through United Partnerships (STARTUP) co-leader Kathryn Hanley. They also conduct dissertation research under the supervision of RISE faculty mentors, and participate in workshop activities organized by the three PIs.

Most recently, RISE held its annual RISE STARTUP Symposium featuring nationally recognized scientists including Lydia Villa-Komaroff, chief scientific officer and board member at Cytonome and one of the first Mexican-American women to complete a doctorate in cell biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“RISE continues to diversify leadership. We’re really focusing on recruiting first-generation students, and we currently are accepting applications for 2015,” Serrano added.

For more information about the program, visit http://rise.nmsu.edu.