An innovative summer program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute that exposes undergraduates to CHOP laboratories has received key backing from the National Institutes of Health. CHOP Research was awarded more than $500,000 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to support the CHOP Research Institute Summer Scholars Program (CRISSP).
Started as a pilot program in 2012, CRISSP pairs promising undergraduate scientists with leading CHOP researchers for a 10-week program, from June to August. In addition to offering undergraduates valuable laboratory and clinical research experience, the program also supports their professional development with networking lunches and other events, and CRISSP interns conduct informational interviews to learn more about graduate and medical school. They are given the opportunity to shadow clinicians, and are trained in laboratory safety, animal use, and human subjects protections.
“It has been inspirational to work with CRISSP faculty and students over the past several years,” said Ian Krantz, MD, the program’s principal investigator. “I am amazed at the maturity and drive of the students who we have had the pleasure to host in my lab and the quality of the overall program in providing a unique and valuable research experience to these undergraduates. The support of the NICHD through the R25 grant will allow CRISSP to formalize and extend its efforts in providing one of the most exceptional undergraduate summer research experiences in the country.”
Since its inception, the program has been a runaway success. CRISSP’s applicant pool has nearly doubled since 2012, with 2015 applications coming from more than 164 schools for 25 spots. Moreover, administrators have seen a rise in the overall strength of applicants, making the selection process that much more difficult.
In 2014 CRISSP students hailed from twenty schools around the country, including the University of Virginia, Villanova University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Three spots in the program are reserved for Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) students, and Dr. Krantz, Eric Marsh, MD, PhD, and Adam Resnick, PhD, have all committed to work with CCP students in 2015. Other 2015 faculty include oncologist Lamia P. Barakat, PhD, geneticist Struan Grant, PhD, and emergency medicine expert Mark R. Zonfrillo, MD, MSCE.
“It is has been a true pleasure for me to be part of CRISSP from the very beginning and to see firsthand the incredible degree of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of the CHOP administrators in charge of it and the unwavering support of the faculty,” said orthopedic expert Maurizio Pacifici, PhD, who in 2014 mentored CCP student Adebayo Bello.
The program is administered by CHOP Research’s Office of Responsible Research Training, which is directed by Wendy Williams, PhD, while Dennis R. Durbin, MD, MSCE, director of CHOP Research’s Office of Clinical and Translational Research, will offer ongoing institutional support.
The NICHD grant will allow CRISSP’s managers to increase their efforts to diversify the program, add faculty and student mentoring services, offer Responsible Conduct of Research training, and add a high school component to the program. In particular, the funding will support a half-day, “Research in Action” event for Philadelphia-area high school students. The annual event will expose students — starting with those from Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy — to the wide array of research performed at CHOP Research every day.
Dr. Williams and her team will also use the NICHD funding to develop a mentor training program for CRISSP-associated faculty and staff. Dr. Durbin, who has mentored many junior faculty members and physician fellows over the years, and who has studied research mentoring, will lead the CRISSP Research Mentor Training Program.
Moreover, the NICHD grant will fund the development of a mentorship training program for CRISSP students, to help them learn how to be an ideal mentee as well as how to mentor others. And it will help develop a workforce “pipeline” that encourages talented high school students, particularly under-represented minority students, to pursue careers in biomedical science.
“The CRISSP students have turned out to be what we had hoped for, a group of amazingly motivated, hard working, scientifically curious and diligent young people,” said Dr. Pacifici. “It has been fun to get to know them, learn about their life trajectories and plans, and help them implement their dreams in the future. It would be indeed fantastic if the CHOP Research Institute, and the students’ experience here, were to make a real difference in their life.”
“We were so pleased to receive this grant from the NICHD,” said Dr. Williams. “Its support will be integral to growing CRISSP, and inspiring the next generation of biomedical researchers to pursue rewarding careers in science.”
To learn more about CRISSP, see the program’s website.