ANN ARBOR, Mich. — They’re at two different ends of the higher-education journey: some just starting out on associate’s degrees, the others finishing up advanced training after earning a doctorate in biomedical science.
But there’s a lot they can teach one another, with the help of their professors.
Through a new five-year federal grant totaling $3.64 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the two types of “learners” will come together for science and engineering education at two of Southeast Michigan’s colleges.
Both Henry Ford College (HFC) and the Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) have signed on to allow University of Michigan (U-M) Medical School and College of Engineering postdoctoral fellows to co-teach in their classrooms, working alongside their faculty.
The postdocs, who specialize in the fields of physiology and biomedical engineering, will hone their teaching skills with the help of HFC and WCCCD faculty mentors over the course of four years. By planning and teaching a course together, the postdocs can prepare to teach and mentor students when they obtain their first faculty jobs.
Meanwhile, the associate’s degree students will receive team-based teaching from the U-M postdocs and the partner college’s faculty member in their engineering and science classes. The students will also have a chance to learn about scientific careers directly from a working research scientist, and to apply for summer experiences working in the same U-M research laboratory as the postdoc.
Drs. Christian Nwamba and Desiree Meyers, faculty at WCCCD faculty mentors, talk with one of the first IRACDA fellows, U-M physiology postdoctoral fellow Victor Cazares, Ph.D.
The program, called Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA), builds on initial seed funding provided by U-M’s Provost Office and the Deans of the College of Engineering and the Medical School coupled with a pilot program at HFC and WCCCD. With the new grant, U-M will be able to select three postdocs each year for a four-year stint that will involve teaching, research and mentoring by participating faculty.
The new grant makes U-M the 22nd site in a nationwide network of IRACDA centers funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences over the past 15 years. The program aims in part to address a longstanding lack of diversity in scientific careers.
Both of the colleges in the partnership have a high percentage of students who are from backgrounds that are under-represented in science. Some of the U-M postdoctoral fellows chosen for the program will also be from such backgrounds, but all those chosen will be committed to careers working with such students.
The first two fellows, neuroscientist Victor Cazares, Ph.D., and computational physiologist Wylie Stroberg, Ph.D., have already been chosen as the first two U-M IRACDA Fellows. Candidate trainees at U-M and other institutions nationally will be able to apply for enrollment on an annual basis in what is expected to be highly competitive positions.
More marketable skills all around
“For any postdoctoral fellow, having extra training in teaching skills gives them a leg up as they go on the job market, and we have fantastic partners at HFC and WCCCD to help our fellows enhance their teaching skills,” says Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the U-M Medical School Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and one of the leaders of this effort. “Through this program, they’ll not only develop those skills, but have a chance to inspire the next generation of potential biomedical researchers and research staff.”
Biomedical Engineering Professor David Sept, Ph.D., who co-leads the program, notes that NIH statistics show that IRACDA fellows were more productive scientifically than traditional postdocs.
In the pilot phase of the U-M program, which provided the data needed to apply for NIH funding, both the mentors at HFC and WCCCD and the participating postdocs expressed how pleased they were with the opportunity.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from the teaching mentors has been really gratifying,” says Sept. “And the postdocs tell us that it opened their eyes, and made them feel that they were really making a difference. They enjoyed it beyond their expectations.” He notes that IRACDA fellows and community college faculty will collaborate to review existing curriculum and seek opportunities to include current scientific research to the college courses.
HFC IRACDA faculty mentors Janice Gilliland, Jolie Stepaniak, Stacey Buchanan, and Hassan Nameghi
Janice Gilliland, associate dean of the Math and Science Division at HFC, said “HFC is excited to be collaborating on the first IRACDA grant in Michigan. Our faculty have a great deal of pedagogical knowledge and classroom experience that they can share with the post-docs from U-M while at the same time having the chance to update themselves with current science research.”
“This is a very exciting opportunity,” said WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Curtis L. Ivery. “This partnership opportunity with the U-M is consistent with our mission in developing students at all levels both in the classroom at the community college and for postdoctoral fellows. Such partnerships are essential to maximizing opportunities for our students in the greater Wayne County region. We’re very excited to be one of the inaugural community college partners and provide opportunity to hone teaching skills in the sciences for better effectiveness in the classroom where learning begins.”
Many students in colleges like HFC and WCCCD know about health professions from exposure to the health care system. But few have learned about the many career options available in academic and industry settings for people with science and engineering training. In the pilot phase of the program, the U-M fellows found themselves peppered with questions from students who were curious about their research and how they got into a scientific career.
The new program adds to U-M’s existing efforts to help postdoctoral fellows prepare for careers in academia, industry, government and more. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), which offers many teaching and learning workshops and seminars, is a co-supporter of the IRACDA effort.
The HFC and WCCCD faculty taking part in the IRACDA effort will also have an opportunity to participate in professional development activities at U-M, such as those offered through CRLT. Though most have doctorate degrees in their chosen fields, and many completed postdoctoral training, their laudable choice to focus on teaching in the community college environment means they may have fewer chances to connect with the research world they once trained in.