New discoveries

Jared Smith, a first-year UF College of Medicine student, stands with Alexandra R. Lucas, M.D., a professor of medicine and cardiovascular medicine researcher. One of 14 NIH Summer Research Program participants, Smith is spending the summer working in Lucas’ lab. Photo by Jesse S. Jones

For Tuskegee University student Ashlyn Goodwin, spending a summer conducting biomedical research at the UF College of Medicine has been an eye-opening experience.

“This is my first time doing research,” said Goodwin. “I come from a rural area. At high school, we barely had labs.”

Going from a private, historically black college with 3,000 students to a major public research university with more than 50,000 students and hundreds of researchers has also been enlightening.

“Everything is just a new experience — I’m very glad to be here,” Goodwin said. “I’m just going to try to learn all I can and take it back to help other students be aware of it and apply.”

Goodwin is among 14 undergraduate and graduate minority students from around the U.S. and Puerto Rico working alongside UF College of Medicine researchers through the National Institutes of Health Summer Research Program.

The 10-week summer research program is offered to undergraduate students and students in the health professional schools. The NIH-funded program is designed to increase the number of underrepresented minority students entering biomedical research.

Students are provided with a mentored laboratory experience in an active UF research lab and at the end of the program, they present their research project results in a seminar at the Health Science Center.

“I think this is something that is very important that the university does,“ said Charles E. Wood, Ph.D., chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of physiology and functional genomics and head of the NIH summer research program.

There are students who have attended the program that have never had the chance to work with an active scientist or in a lab, he said. Some have found a love of science and research that have led them to new career paths.

“Last time I did a count, 90 percent of our students got doctoral degrees and the vast majority of them got M.D.s,” Wood said.

Most of the students in the program are undergraduates, but there are four graduate students from UF including two pharmacy students and two first-year College of Medicine students, Steve Noutong and Jared Smith.

Noutong participated in the NIH summer research program last year and returned this year to do neurology research at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

He was 16 years old when he came to the U.S. by himself from Cameroon for more educational opportunities. He studied English in Miami for six months then began classes at Miami-Dade Community College. He eventually transferred to UF, where he majored in biology, then was accepted to the College of Medicine.

“This program has been super helpful,” Noutong said. “For me, it’s more about exposure, knowing what’s out there and knowing how to incorporate it into what you do later.”

With a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and an interest in cardiology, Smith is working with Alexandra R. Lucas, M.D., a professor of medicine and cardiovascular medicine researcher. He said he was excited to find a mentor who is a cardiologist that also does translational research.

As one of the few graduate students in the program, he also hopes to be a mentor to some of his younger peers.

“I had some great science professors,” Smith said. “If you have the right people to help you along, it can make a big difference.”