Participants say 100% online summer research program is top-quality

April 12, 2024

University of Arizona summer traineeship NSURP empowers diverse students in science.

Two students stand next to posters at scientific conference

NSURP Participants Zhanna Lacey and Halima Alloosh present posters at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

University of Arizona summer traineeship NSURP empowers diverse students in science.

—Tucson, AZ—

As the fifth summer approaches for the National Summer Undergraduate Research Project (NSURP), a new cohort of 35 undergraduate students from around the country are gearing up for eight weeks of online research and mentoring in microbiology, immunology, cancer biology, and biomedical engineering. Under the guidance of principal investigator Dr. Michael Johnson, associate professor of immunobiology and program assistant director Dr. Natasha Cornejo, the NSF-funded NSURP gives underrepresented minorities in the sciences access to a research project and mentorship tailored to their unique backgrounds. “We meet students where they are instead of just telling them to come into our systems,” says Johnson. “We get to figure out their family and background systems and speak, teach, and mentor to those.”

When Zhanna Lacey learned about NSURP from a professor at the University of Delaware, she was intrigued. “I hesitated when I learned it was a 100% online project, but it turned out that the positives truly outweighed the negatives. It changed my perspective on what a research program can be.”

Lacey said she’s wanted to be a scientist since she was a child. “I love how you ask a question and then figure it out—at least get to the next question. Even if your research doesn’t give you the results you want, it will give you another piece of the puzzle.”

Lacey’s mentor at the Harvard Institute of Public Health put her to work studying all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) on macrophage gene expression in relation to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. To accomplish the research, Lacey needed to learn how to program. She turned the challenge into an asset. "I hit a wall and threw a bit of a tantrum but then threw myself into getting the job done. And I did. I learned to code! Now, I want to incorporate programming into my future research.”

Halima Aloosh of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis learned about NSURP while searching online for research internships. NSURP stood out because she could participate while keeping her job. “People think being online was a disadvantage, but on the contrary, it was an advantage. It fit well with my situation.” Aloosh says the fact that the program is 100% online does not compromise its quality: “I’ve done in-person research before, and NSURP was equally positive and enriching.”

After their summers of researching with their mentors, learning from seminars by an array of scientists, and studying with like-minded students, Lacey and Aloosh say their career trajectories are brighter. For Lacey, NSURP broadened her vision of career options. “This program opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn’t considered. I’d thought I’d go straight into industry, but now I’m considering grad school in microbiology or immunobiology, perhaps studying gut microbiomes and using data analysis.”

Allosh, whose research involved evaluating microbial diversity in metropolitan lawns, says she was inspired to expand her focus to human health and environmental sustainability. “NSURP inspired me to consider an MD/PhD. It’s making me want to participate in the future of science.”

Dr. Johnson takes pride in the achievements of NSURP participants, especially when they advance in their academic and professional pursuits. "When a participant tells me, I just made it to grad school! Or, I just got this publication or this job! It’s really rewarding for me." He believes training grants like NSURP are integral to the university’s mission. “I think it's our chief mission to train the next generation of scientists, and we should be supportive of any opportunity that allows us to do that.”


Subscribe to the UArizona Impact in Action newsletter to receive featured stories and event info to connect you with UArizona's research, innovation, entrepreneurial ventures, and societal impacts.

Subscribe now