Twenty-eight students — half from MIT and the other half from colleges and universities across the country — spent the summer living on the MIT campus and working with 22 faculty members as part of the Amgen Scholars Program, an international summer program that invites hundreds of undergraduate students to conduct faculty-mentored research in science and biotechnology at 13 of the world’s leading research institutions.
The program’s mission is to provide quality lab experience and networking opportunities for students committed to pursuing science or engineering careers, and to inspire students considering a career in those fields. MIT has been a host institution of the program since 2006, when it received a $1 million grant from the Amgen Foundation to launch the first phase of the MIT Amgen-UROP Scholars Program for four summers, beginning in 2007.
As a host institution, MIT provides housing and a competitive stipend to its Amgen Scholars — half of whom are chosen from its own undergraduate population — and also arranges educational programming and mentoring opportunities throughout the summer. MIT’s program, known as the Amgen-UROP Scholars Program, builds in large part on the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which arranges research partnerships between MIT undergraduates and faculty during the academic year and summer.
“It’s a fact that 40 successful years of UROP puts us in an ideal position to develop programming that allows undergraduates and faculty to collaborate on research,” says Michael Bergren, associate dean of academic and research initiatives and program director of MIT’s Amgen-UROP Scholars program. “MIT is a pioneer in undergraduate research programming, and we continue to do this kind of programming exceptionally well.”
To date, MIT has hosted 111 students in the Amgen-UROP Scholars program. Among them are Mercy Uwakwe, 20, a Nigerian-born biological science major from the University of Texas at El Paso. Uwakwe plans to pursue a career in biomedical research. Although she could have applied to any of the programs offered by the 10 Amgen host institutions, she applied only to MIT’s program because of its “well-rounded” research options and the opportunity to interact with students from diverse backgrounds.
Uwakwe was assigned to work in the lab of Laurie Boyer, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Biology. Uwakwe spent the summer in Boyer’s lab studying H2AZ, a protein that may be linked to cancer. She gained experience with designing her own experiments, analyzing the results and troubleshooting. She also took full advantage of the networking opportunities offered by the program, attending faculty lunch seminars, workshops in scientific writing and poster preparation and a three-day symposium at UCLA, where students interacted with leading scientists in industry and academia.
“It’s an inspiring program if you aren’t sure what you want to do in research,” says Uwakwe, who has decided to pursue a combined PhD and MD degree so that she can research blood disorders like cancer and sickle cell disease and also conduct clinical trials. She attributes this decision to her experience in the program. “It takes you from one point in your career to another in just two months so that you’re no longer thinking like an undergrad, but like a PhD or postdoc.”
The Amgen-UROP Scholars Program is open to undergraduates with or without an actual research background, as long as the student demonstrates a strong interest in doing investigative work in science or biotechnology. This year, 524 students applied to the program, a 28 percent increase from 2009. In early August, MIT received word that it was receiving a new grant to cover the second phase of the Amgen-UROP Scholars program through the summer of 2014.