ASCEND Student Research Center: Instilling a Culture of Research Entrepreneurship at Morgan State University

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With more than 100 current members, the ASCEND Student Research Center is a novel student-led organization that continues to grow and attract more students at Morgan State University (MSU). This organization is designed to support and guide student members through the four stages of the ASCEND Entrepreneurial Research Training Model (ERTM). The ERTM’s goal is to instill a culture of research entrepreneurship in undergraduate research training, aiding in students’ development of identities as scientists and members of the research community. 

The four stages are (1) Attraction and Inspiration, (2) Ideation and Innovation, (3) Implementation, and (4) Growth. During their journey through the stages, undergraduate students’ health research interests are ignited, and their support groups and network (including peer and near-peer researchers, scientists at MSU and partner institutions, and key contacts in their prospective graduate schools) are expanded. They receive guidance about  available training and resources, and achieve the full benefits of engaging in authentic research experiences.

MSU ASCEND students at tableASCEND, “A Student-Centered Entrepreneurship Development training model to increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce,” is an NIH BUILD-funded program at MSU, a historically black university in Baltimore, Maryland. The principal philosophy of ASCEND is that leading scientists have the attributes of entrepreneurs in that they use their creativity to generate novel research ideas, pitch their ideas to secure funding, take ownership of their projects, lead staff and other scientists, are rewarded for their success, and in every step of this venture, they accept the associated risks and responsibilities. By applying this model to undergraduate training, the ASCEND program fosters an entrepreneurial spirit in trainees, preparing them for successful research careers.

At the student-led Student Research Center (SRC), undergraduates associate with like-minded peers, practice leadership, receive relevant training and mentoring, learn how to develop, implement, and present their own research, and grow through the process. The peer support that students receive through the SRC is particularly relevant to underrepresented minority students who are often disadvantaged by having fewer role models and less peer support in conducting research.

The ERTM stage at which new members enter this pathway depends on the individual’s background and previous experiences, and they progress at their own pace by participating in SRC activities, taking advantage of opportunities that meet their own needs, and acquiring new skills that prepare them for the next stage. For example, the SRC hosts community outreach events, general body meetings, and leadership activities to attract and inspire; research-based meetings to spark ideation and innovation; and a Health Research Concepts Competition as an opportunity for students to receive research funding for conducting projects they lead and implementing the skills they acquired in previous stages. They are then encouraged to present their work at scientific meetings and network with the scientific community to take steps towards growth. In addition to motivation and hard work, students’ success relies on the tiered mentoring support system embedded in ERTM. This means that while students make progress, they are rewarded with more opportunities and resources for their own success, and they contribute to the progress of other members as tutors, peer mentors, and role models.

Since its inception in 2016, more than 250 students from almost every major and classification have become SRC members. Thus far, 31 student-initiated research concepts have been developed, 13 of which have turned into full project proposals. Compared to a matched control group, SRC members have shown statistically significant improvements in their science identity, science self-efficacy, and academic & personal self-concepts. 

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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