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UM SOM Partners with Towson to Help Advance Under-Represented Minority Students in Biomedical Research

September 20, 2017 | Joanne Morrison

Bret A. Hassel, Ph.D.

The Bridges to the Doctorate Grant is the First to be Awarded in Maryland

The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) and Towson University (TU) were awarded a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to train and provide research experience to help under-represented minority students advance from Master’s Degree programs to Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences.

The Bridges to the Doctorate (B2D) grant is one of 15 in the United States and the first to be awarded in Maryland. The grant comes at a critical time as underrepresented minorities (URM) are the fastest growing populations in the U.S. but make up only a small percentage of the biomedical research workforce.

“This disconnect is particularly acute in biomedical graduate programs where URM students accounted for just seven percent of Ph.D. degrees over the past decade,” said Bret A. Hassel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Director of the Graduate Program in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, who is the UM SOM Co-Principal Investigator for the Bridges to the Doctorate grant.

The B2D program will partner graduate programs at UM SOM and TU to help enhance diversity in UM SOM’s student population and increase underrepresented minorities in the biomedical profession. Elana Ehrlich, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Michelle Snyder, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Sciences are Co-Principal Investigators.

“This program pairs TU’s strength in mentoring with an immersion experience at an excellent research-focused institution,” said Dr. Ehrlich. “This allows the students to being highly competitive candidates to further their studies and make informed career decisions.”

The B2D program will support three to four students per year who will complete a Master’s Degree in biology at TU before moving to complete a Ph.D. Degree at UM SOM or another institution. During the program, B2D scholars will attend regular seminars at TU and UM SOM and network with seminar speakers, participate in near-peer mentoring, receive research and professional development training and complete a four-week mini rotation in a UM SOM lab, among other activities.

This latest grant connects minority-focused STEM training programs such as the Center for STEM Excellence and Bridges to Baccalaureate programs at TU and the STAR-PREP post-baccalaureate program at UM SOM to create a pipeline that spans secondary through post-graduate education.

Recent research shows that significantly more URM students complete a master’s degree (MS) on their way to a doctoral degree than others. In effect this demonstrates that MS programs provide an important pool from which to recruit minority PhD candidates. Consistent with these national trends, assessments at UM SOM and TU showed that just 17% of thesis-MS students at TU who advanced to PhD programs are URMs, and that minority enrollment in UMSOM PhD programs has been constant at 13% despite increases in URM applications.

“This is a most effective way for us to make a meaningful contribution in producing a cadre of the highest level of achievers in science and medicine among our most promising young under-represented minority college students,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, who is the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the School of Medicine.

“This Bridges program will enable Towson University and the Fisher College to recruit many exceptional students and prepare them academically to succeed in top doctoral programs,” said David Vanko, PhD, Dean of TU’s Jess & Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics. “We envision an exciting future where doctoral research is carried out by an increasingly diverse community of scientists.”

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Commemorating its 210th Anniversary, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 43 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs; and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and a distinguished recipient of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinically-based care for more than 1.2 million patients each year. The School has over 2,500 students, residents, and fellows, and nearly $450 million in extramural funding, with more than half of its academic departments ranked in the top 20 among all public medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total workforce of nearly 7,000 individuals. The combined School and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has a total budget of $5 billion and an economic impact of nearly $15 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine faculty, which ranks as the 8th-highest public medical school in research productivity, is an innovator in translational medicine with 600 active patents and 24 start-up companies. The School works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit

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