David McKinney/University Relations

Lynn Villafuerte works to ensure a diverse mix of students succeed in the sciences.

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Lynn S. Villafuerte, program coordinator, Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program and Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity

Years at current job: 2.5 years

Job duties: As program coordinator, I am responsible for the overall management and operation of two NIH-funded minority student programs that train students in the sciences. Both projects seek to increase the success of students who are members of groups currently underrepresented in the biomedical sciences and engineering. I actively recruit and determine placement of eligible students into KU research laboratories where they are mentored by KU faculty.

I also develop and participate in teaching courses designed to prepare our students for research and graduate education. In addition, I am involved in the PLUS (Peer-Led Undergraduate Supplement) program, a curriculum enhancement program designed to provide peer guided supplementary learning to biology, general and organic chemistry courses.

Whatís one thing that would surprise people about your work? Research opportunities for students are abundant here at KU. There is no shortage of faculty willing to accommodate students into their laboratories and research groups. The trick is to find the one that matches the studentís interest and discipline. Once we establish that, it is very gratifying to be part of the studentís development into a contributing member of the scientific community.

We have been at KU long enough to have students come back and tell us that being part of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity, IMSD, and Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program, PREP, had an impact on their career choices and now, as teachers and researchers of other institutions, they look for similar programs for their students.

Why is it important to have a diverse community, specifically in the biosciences?

With the continual advances in the biological sciences and engineering contributing significant benefits to our society, a scientific community that fosters diversity in ideas, research and individuals stands to be more academically prolific than one that has a limited agenda and resources. Good representation from all groups in the population is valuable in determining the needs of each group that can subsequently be addressed by research and education. This diversity also serves as inspiration to the future generations of scientists. The PREP and IMSD students look up to and work closely with their research mentors and learn early on what is required to succeed in academia. The guidance and training the KU faculty provides to these students mold their behavior and attitude toward scientific research.

I am fortunate to be working in an institution that has a very deep pool of faculty who are very involved in and committed to undergraduate student research education. Our programs also recognize the steady increase in the number of minorities in the country. Yet, despite this shift, they are still underrepresented in the sciences. We are here to support the training of more scientists to help prevent a decline in the number of researchers and academicians who can serve this increasing population.

What is the biggest challenge students in the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program and Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity face, and how do you address it? The transition from undergraduate education to graduate school can be a big challenge to students and in some cases, it is crucial to their success. It is the IMSD and PREPís goal to prepare them for this transition. The students in our program become part of a research group, they interact with peers and mentors in their discipline and become exposed to the process of critical thinking and the conduct of research. This research experience prepares them for the environment that they will experience in graduate school.

We also provide professional development training including workshops and courses on preparing research presentations, preparation of graduate school applications and understanding ethical behavior in biomedical research. These programs also have resources that allow students to share their work by attending local and national conferences. I would like to think that both PREP and IMSD provide the foundation for the transition to graduate school while the students are still here at KU such that when they eventually start in a graduate program, they have research skills and knowledge that can supplement more intensive training as well as a mind-set of a scientist.

When they complete their undergraduate education, IMSD or PREP at KU, they are aware of the challenges, the type of work and the rewards for someone in academia, which will help them decide if this is the career they want to pursue.

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Lynn S. Villafurerte, program coordinator, Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program and Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity
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