$1 million grant to steer undergraduates into research

The Amgen Foundation has renewed a four-year, $1 million grant to the University of California, Berkeley, that to date has introduced 94 undergraduate students from a range of colleges and universities to laboratory research and steered more than three-quarters of them into graduate level research.

Profile of Karla Ramos of the University of Puerto Rico, who spent the summer of 2010 studying chemical biology at UC Berkeley in the laboratory of Michael Marletta. (Credit: Amgen Foundation)

The Amgen Scholars program was instituted in 2006, with UC Berkeley as one of 10 universities chosen to host the scholars for intensive summer research with hands-on laboratory experience. Nearly 1,200 scholars have participated worldwide, and 21 of them are now graduate students at UC Berkeley. Ten of the 21 are members of minority groups underrepresented in science fields.

“The Amgen Scholars program has been a spectacular success at Berkeley,” said Mark Schlissel, dean of biological sciences at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters & Science and professor of molecular and cell biology. “The students are talented and highly motivated, and a real pleasure to work with. And obviously the experience helps ease their path to graduate studies.”

More than 70 UC Berkeley faculty members have mentored Amgen scholars on campus.

Scholars have come to UC Berkeley from places as small as Hope College, a liberal arts institution in Holland, Mich., that enrolls 3,200 students, and as large as the University of Pennsylvania, with an enrollment of more than 24,000. Undergraduates have hailed from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as well, in search of a different research experience than that available on their home campuses.

Adam Session, a Rutgers University graduate, is one whose summer experience at UC Berkeley changed his life and helped him gain acceptance as a graduate student here in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

“I think the Amgen Scholars Program is one of the best undergraduate research programs in the country,” said Session, who worked during the summer of 2009 in the genetics laboratory of Rachel Brem, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology. “There was a lot of support: Graduate students checked in on you regularly, took you around to different labs, and even helped you with life outside the lab. You got to see what graduate students do and find out what it’s like to work full time in a lab. The program even helps prepare you for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) and the application process to grad school.”

“I had a really good time, which is why I chose Berkeley,” he added. “The program showed me you’ve got to work hard, and it’s going to be more than a 40 hour week. It’s tough, but it showed me that I could do it, and that it was something I would want to do.”

Session was so grateful for the experience that this past summer he mentored more than a half dozen Amgen Scholars during their summer on campus.

As a result of such experiences over the past four years, more than 70 percent of the program’s alumni worldwide who have graduated from college are now pursuing an advanced degree or a career in science or engineering, with many of them in scientific Ph.D. programs at top universities across the world, according to the foundation.

“The success of the Amgen Scholars program is due in large share to our university partners,” said Jean J. Lim, president of the Amgen Foundation. “These leading universities provide undergraduates from around the country with an inspiring, hands-on research experience that often leads them to pursue advanced degrees and a career in the sciences.”

The renewed funding is the second phase of the Amgen Foundation’s initiative to inspire the next generation of scientists and brings total funding for the Amgen Scholars Program to $34 million over eight years.

The support will allow the U.S. programs, as well as the three European programs added in 2008, to continue to host summer symposiums that allow students to share their summer research projects, learn about biotechnology, and hear firsthand from leading industry and academic scientists. In addition, new travel awards will help support Amgen Scholar alumni currently enrolled in master’s, Ph.D., and M.D.-Ph.D. programs in scientific fields to share their research at scientific conferences.

Financial support for students is a critical component of the program, which seeks to ensure that eligible students, regardless of their financial status, are able to participate. Applications are now being accepted for the 2011 Amgen Scholars Program.

Including UC Berkeley, the 10 U.S. program partners are the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University/Barnard College, MIT, Stanford University, University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, UCLA, UC San Diego and UCSF. The three European program partners are Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden; and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany.

The Amgen Foundation has made $140 million in grants since 1991 to nonprofit organizations throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Europe to advance science education, improve patient access to quality care, and strengthen the communities where Amgen staff members live and work.

For more information, link to amgen.com/citizenship/overview.html, amgenscholars.com or amgenscholars.berkeley.edu