NSF Grant Recognizes Successful WFIRM Summer Scholars Program

The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to engage undergraduate students in research at the interface of engineering and biology in challenging areas of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) each summer.

Based on the strength of WFIRM’s long-standing Summer Scholars program, the $366,423 three-year grant will focus on enhancing participation and interest of under-represented minority (URM) groups, women, first generation students, veterans and non-traditional students attending two- and four-year universities with limited access to TERM research. The NSF and the Department of Defense have both identified TERM research as high priority areas.

TERM is a highly interdisciplinary field involving a diverse array of participants with science and engineering backgrounds, including molecular and cellular biology, bioengineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, biotechnology and materials science.

The Summer Scholars program is unique in that students are placed into an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to TERM research. The program also boasts open spaces where faculty mentors and the entire WFIRM research team collaborate, allowing for simultaneous exposure to TERM research projects beyond the students’ own individual research projects.

The students’ experiences are supplemented with additional program elements and education on the research process, hands-on instrumentation, workshops on bioethics, responsible conduct of research, effective oral and written communication, professional development and career opportunities topics. All students present their research findings several times over the summer and in oral and poster format at a final research day event. Opportunities to attend and present at local and national meetings are also emphasized.

“A significant challenge in TERM is developing the next generation of science and engineering experts, who are cognizant of the interdisciplinary challenges and approaches needed to solve TERM problems,” said Joan Schanck, MPA, WFIRM Academic Research Program Officer who oversees educational programming. “Engineers need to understand the biological dimensions of their work to advance their own engineering knowledge and interact knowledgeably with biologically trained counterparts and vice versa.”