Education

Lab access: Diversifying the bench

Aug. 18, 2021

“Science is nature’s art,” Mariana Espinosa-Polanco said. The art and psychiatry major is a rising senior at The City College New York (CCNY) and one of the eight scholars in the inaugural class of NEUROCITY. “I graduate in December and plan to continue to pursue science because of this experience.”

NEUROCITY 2021

NEUROCITY is one of two pipelines to neuroscience recently created by the University of Rochester Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Commission (NDC). The program is a partnership with CCNY aimed at giving underrepresented minority students access to neuroscience research labs. In a similar vein, NEUROEAST, another pipeline program with similar goals, welcomed two high school students from East High School in the city of Rochester School District into The Haptics Lab in the Brain and Cognitive Science Department at the University.

Lulu Abdullahi (right), a junior at East, practices soldering to repair an experiment component with Manuel Gomez-Ramirez (center) in the Haptics Lab. Catalina Feistritzer (left), a University of Pittsburgh senior participating in UR's Summer Research Program, looks on.
Lulu Abdullahi (right), a junior at East, practices soldering to repair an experiment component with Manuel Gomez-Ramirez (center) in the Haptics Lab. Catalina Feistritzer (left), a University of Pittsburgh senior participating in UR's Summer Research Program, looks on.

“These programs have begun invaluable partnerships,” said Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D., NDC chair. “Being able to provide these students a real-world experience in working research labs sets the foundation for the future of science. Progress in neuroscience depends on having the best researchers doing the work. And to find the best, we must provide access to all."

“Access is imperative for equity in the sciences,” said Adrienne Morgan, Ph.D., vice president for Equity and Inclusion, University of Rochester Medical Center and senior associate dean for Equity and Inclusion, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “One of our main objectives is developing ways to continue to make sure the best and the brightest get that access by removing barriers. Creating programs like these is part of it.”

For six weeks, the NEUROEAST students learned how to conduct scientific research, and were guided on how to navigate the education and training necessary to pursue a career in research. In the fall, the program will expand to six students who will rotate through multiple labs for the duration of the academic year.

The NEUROCITY students spent ten weeks working in neuroscience labs at the University and Medical Center, each under a co-mentorship of University and CCNY faculty. They were also paired with a graduate student or post-doctoral trainee who will help them read journal articles, conduct lab work, and build a poster that they will present at the culmination of the program.

“Our goal is to give students interested in the field of neuroscience experience and opportunity they may otherwise not have,” said Duje Tadin, Ph.D., professor and chair of Brain & Cognitive Sciences. One of the students, Yacinda Hernandez, is working in the Tadin Lab this summer, using virtual reality and EEG to understand sensory function in both neurotypical individuals and people with autism spectrum disorder. “The pool of students working with us this summer is exceptional and is yet another example of how the field of neuroscience benefits from being more inclusive.”

“This summer, NEUROCITY is giving eight very motivated and talented City College students the chance to study in a field normally out of their reach,” said Robert Melara, Ph.D., professor and chair of Psychology at CCNY. “They are loving the experience. We hope that this internship opens a door to their future doctoral education and a career in neuroscience. Indeed, some of the students have already begun their Ph.D. applications.”‚Äč

Liset Guaman-Correa (center), works with bench mentor Sanjana Kapisthalam in The Active Perception Lab. (Image captured in July 2021).
Liset Guaman-Correa (center), CCNY senior, works with bench mentor Sanjana Kapisthalam, Brain & Cognitive Sciences graduate student, in The Active Perception Lab. (Image captured in July 2021).

“The Institute is committed to providing all scholars interested in scientific research, particularly in the field of neuroscience, access to the best educational opportunities,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “Both NEUROCITY AND NEUROEAST are examples of our goal to make research accessible and affirm our commitment to diversity, which is essential for excellence in science.”