It all started when a National Institutes of Health announcement called for new applications to the NIH-funded MARC program. MARC U*STAR stands for Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research. After Lasse Lindahl gave it some thought, he concluded that since he was the chair of the biology department, he should pursue a major funding opportunity for “diversifying the research program in the biomedical sciences.”
With the help of assistant Kathy Sutphin, an application was pulled together in only two weeks. Lasse Lindahl and Jackie King, associate director, aided students to receive off-campus research opportunities as well as graduate school assistance. Additionally, Keith Harmon, director of UMBC Meyerhoff Scholars, mentors students, many of whom are MARC U*STAR students.
The goal of the MARC U*STAR program “is to instill research culture and an enthusiasm for research that will last a life time” according to Lindahl. It is a “research training scholarship program for undergraduate juniors and seniors majoring in the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering and mathematics.” Students receive a yearly stipend, tuition assistance and travel funding to conferences. They also receive academic support through an assigned advisor. The program offers support in a variety of ways. Each year, there are 40 students in the program and UMBC MARC U*STAR is one of the largest in the country. The UMBC MARC U*STAR program had its first alumnus receive a Ph.D. in 2004 and recently honored its 100th year anniversary.
The 100th MARC Scholar to complete a Ph.D. was Erwin Cabrera. He earned his Ph.D. in basic biomedical sciences-neuropathology from the New York University School of Medicine. Cabrera reflected on the MARC U* STAR program and stated that the program allowed him a safe space to be themselves and also be researchers. Additionally, he stated that the MARC program helped solidify his “career passion for work in higher education” and helped him understand that “membership is a key component in a student’s success” and that he “would like to contribute the same wisdom to others that was given to me.”
The MARC U*STAR program employs a multitude of activities to reach this goal from “trainee selection, year-round participation in research at UMBC and around the country (during the summer), intensive advising, participation in national and regional research conferences, help with abstract writing and more.” The MARC U*STAR program holds a multitude of different conferences all over the nation.
According to Lindahl, “Most students participate once in the Americal Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, which actually is attended by many majority students as well. Last year, the conference was in Seattle, WA, this year it will be in Tampa, FL. Trainees also go to meetings in their individual interest sphere to present their work, listen to world-renowned scientists and networking.”
MARC U*STAR scholars make a difference “in the student community at UMBC, in the graduate programs they attend after graduating from UMBC and indeed in their professional life after obtaining a Ph.D. A number of them are, for example, working as faculty members or advisors for the generations that come after their own.”