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CSUN Receives Nearly $3 Million Grant To Support Biomedical Science Students



CSUN Cal State Northridge
Photo Courtesy of CSUN

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) has been awarded nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support students studying biomedical sciences with an eye on eventually earning a Ph.D.

The $2,882,538, five-year grant will support a new program, Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE), designed to equip undergraduate students with skills that will make them more competitive for entry into graduate programs, according to the university.

Targeting students from traditionally underrepresented communities, the grant includes money to cover 60 percent of the students’ tuition to CSUN, as well as stipends and support for their research projects and attending scientific conferences.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students, who are often the first ones in their families to go to college,” said biology professor MariaElena Zavala, lead director of the U-RISE program at CSUN in a statement. “In addition to the tuition help, the grant allows us to provide the students with stipends to research and attend conferences — all of which can cement a student’s decision to pursue a career in science.

The U-RISE program is administered by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, with the goals of increasing the number of capable, underrepresented scientists engaged in biomedical research and strengthening science curricula and research opportunities at institutions with substantial minority enrollment to prepare students for careers in biomedical research.

“When you’re the first in your family to go to college, getting a Ph.D. can seem like a long way off, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable,” Zavala said, who was the first Mexican American woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in botany. “A program like this demonstrates that there are people out there who believe in you and are willing to support you as you pursue your dream and that achieving that dream is possible.”

The year-round program replaces CSUN’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC – undergraduates) and Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE – undergraduates and post-graduates) programs, which for more than two decades successfully helped increase the number and capabilities of underrepresented scientists engaged in basic biomedical research.

CSUN’s U-RISE program, led by Zavala and biology professors Cheryl Courtney-Hogue and Ray Hong, starts this summer with an anticipated inaugural cohort of 10 students. In subsequent years, that cohort is expected to increase to 20 students.

In addition to the financial support, the students will receive training on how to be principal investigators (lead researchers) on research projects, be paired with faculty mentors, and work on a long-term research project. They also will attend and present at scientific conferences and participate in professional development workshops.

“We want to make sure they have everything they need so that they can hit the ground running when they get into graduate school,” Zavala said.

Zavala also is a co-author of a paper, “Broadening the impact of plant science through innovative and inclusive outreach,” that recently appeared in the journal Plant Direct. The paper provides a guide for increasing science outreach in the field of plant biology.

She and her co-authors are hoping to renew interest in the field of plant biology, which is going to become more and more important as the world grapples with the impact climate change has on global food supplies and medicine.

“When people think about science, they often don’t think about plant science,” said Zavala. “People don’t understand how absolutely important plants are to their well-being. In addition to their aesthetics, plants are at the center of our food chain, and 70-80 percent of all drugs have their origins in plants.”


CSUN Receives Largest Donation In University History From MacKenzie Scott



CSUN Cal State Northridge

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) announced Tuesday that philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott and her husband Dan Jewett donated $40 million, the largest gift from a single donor in the institution’s history.

Scott, the former partner of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, has donated a total of $2.74 billion to organizations that focus on the arts and combating racial discrimination.

“Higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity, so we looked for 2- and 4-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved,” Scott wrote in a post announcing the billions in donations.

The gift to CSUN, which is designated to support presidential priorities, comes at an especially advantageous time for the university.

Erika D. Beck, who assumed the presidency of CSUN in January of this year, recently issued a report on what she heard during an intensive listening tour during her first 100 days. The report is the first step to a university-wide process starting this fall to create a roadmap for the future.

“This transformative gift provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance our future as leaders in equity-centered student success to provide a brighter and more equitable future for our students, their families and the communities we are so proud to serve,” said Beck.

Among the priorities identified in the Listening Tour Report, are the elimination of equity gaps, accelerating the work in diversifying the faculty, academic excellence, holistic student support and facilitating CSUN students’ educational goals and intellectual promise.

“While one-time dollars cannot be used to support long-term expenses in perpetuity, with a mix of focused spending and investment, we can, and will, use these dollars to transform our campus for generations to come,” Beck added.

Scott and Jewett’s gifts to higher education have focused on institutions that have higher proportions of students from historically underserved communities and excel at supporting their success. 

With multiple programs ranked nationally for their quality and excellence, CSUN was recently ranked 4th in the nation on CollegeNet’s Social Mobility Index, which measures a college’s success at moving students up the social and economic ladder.

Other Southern California colleges and organizations also received donations from the couple, including Pasadena City College and the  L.A. Arts Endowment Fund.

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LAUSD, Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement To Fully Reopen Classrooms In Fall



Classroom LA County School Reopening

United Teachers Los Angeles (ULTA) announced Thursday the union reached a deal to fully reopen classrooms in the fall with safety measures in place.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner announced plans in May to fully reopen for in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year with a remote learning option.

In the fall, students are expected to be on campus five days a week. Middle school and high school students will switch classrooms for each class period, according to the LAUSD superintendent.

A major element of the tentative agreement includes maintaining concrete and enforceable COVID-19 protocols, according to the union.

Those protocols include increased testing, daily symptom screening, cleaning and paid leave for those required to quarantine, according to the agreement.

In addition, the deal required continued ability for high-risk staff to request reasonable accommodations in the online program.

The education groups also agreed to not displace any UTLA-represented staff for the 2021-2022 school year. Those educators who have been in danger of displacement will now be able to remain at the school for the 2021-2022 school year, according to the union.

As part of the tentative agreement, the LAUSD must make every effort to avoid combo classes. Those required to teach a combo class will receive a $1,200 stipend for the extra work.

ULTA officials also said the agreement includes an increased training pay rate, from $25 to $50 an hour, permanently.

The plan includes an expanded online-only independent study program following the City of Angels model and using a mix of daily live synchronous learning and independent work.

The tentative agreement is set to be voted on by members. Dates and details of the ratification vote will be announced early next week, according to the UTLA.

If approved, the new policies and conditions are expected to go into effect on June 23.

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LAUSD Board Passes Resolution Supporting Student Mothers



LAUSD_Graduate-photo (1)

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education adopted a resolution Tuesday that creates more support for teenage mothers, helping help them navigate parenthood while achieving academic success.

Proposed by Student Board Member Kamarie Brown, the “Mommy, Daddy and Me” resolution calls on Los Angeles Unified to work with teen mothers in creating a “comprehensive student maternity support system.”

The resolution seeks to prevent students from dropping out of school because of pregnancy or parenthood by creating spaces on school campuses for daycare, and a designated lactation area.

“I’m very proud to put forth this resolution, with the support of our Board Members, to ensure that students receive the necessary resources and support to reach their full potential, facilitate their academic success, and support their holistic growth,” Student Board Member Kamarie Brown said. “This resolution serves to create a more robust and comprehensive support system for pregnant and expecting students, and I’m so honored by the student mothers and fathers who shared their experiences with me. Their thoughts and experiences were the foundation of this resolution.”

The resolution also calls on Los Angeles Unified to create a curriculum on prenatal care and child development for all students.

“I’m proud to co-sponsor Ms. Brown’s resolution to support our parenting students,” Board President Kelly Gonez said. “Expanding our support systems to provide more access to parenting resources, care, and accommodations benefits everyone. Parenting students can focus on graduating, pursuing their goals and better provide for their children. These are changes we can make now that create a lasting, positive impact.”

In addition, the measure requests funding for a full-time position, or at minimum provide specialized training to an existing staff person, to ensure there is a person on campus focused on providing supports to student mothers in finding child care and support resources.

“We must recognize that most of our pregnant and parenting teens do not have, or don’t feel they have, the support they need to stay in school,” Board Member Jackie Goldberg said. “This resolution not only provides practical ideas and resources, but also conveys our commitment to helping our students succeed in school and in life. Student moms have been invisible for too long.  Thanks to Board Member Brown for truly seeing them.”

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