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August 31, 2011 – Inside a Jackson State University medical research lab on the Mississippi Delta, Fort Valley State University alumnae Turquoise Alexander is hard at work, examining specimens through a microscope. The upbeat, hard-nosed, 24-year-old graduate student is conducting research trials on a new cancer-fighting herb that can potentially save lives.
“I’m working with a plant called ocimum gratissmum (also known as African Basil),” says the Savannah native. “It’s a Hawaiian plant, which my mentor proved inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells.” Daily, Alexander analyzes the plant’s substances and uses pharmaceutical research kits to pinpoint active proteins in basil for use in future commercial drugs.
Alexander, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biology at Jackson State, credits her research experiences to the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The mentoring program—offered at FVSU and six partner institutions—prepares minority students for science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. This August, the National Science Foundation renewed LSAMP’s five-year, $4.9 million grant, “Strengthening the STEM Pipeline in the Peach State: Recruitment, Retention and Research” to ensure support for future scientists.
Peach LSAMP director and FVSU interim chemistry chair, Dr. Dwayne Daniels, says the grant’s renewal shows that LSAMP is accomplishing its purpose.
“The whole mission of LSAMP is to get minority students in the STEM area,” Daniels says. The enrollment of underrepresented minorities (African Americans and Hispanics) in the sciences has increased and students are supported through mentorship, research and internship opportunities. In LSAMP, program leaders track students’ progress by establishing benchmarks from undergraduate to graduate school. Mentors, such as Dr. James Mack, an associate professor of chemistry, are available for meetings twice a week.
“I discuss the need to read information in science for comprehension, first, and not grades, because grades can be taken away,” says Mack. “Knowledge cannot be taken away.”
Recipients of LSAMP stipends of $500 to $1,000 are required to take the Graduate Record Exam by the junior year or risk losing financial support.
Participants are required to present research at academic conferences. “We do a lot of traveling with our students, and love to take them to conferences,” the director says. “Many of our students have never left the state before, so it’s fun to see their faces when we go to places like California or Arizona.”
This summer, Alexander traveled to California and India to conduct research. Since JSUis a LSAMP partner school, Alexander qualified for the “Bridge to the Doctorate” program, and is receiving a stipend of $30,000 annually for two years to cover expenses.
LSAMP is a collaborative endeavor led by six University System of Georgia schools:FVSU, Georgia Perimeter College, Savannah State University, Southern Polytechnic State University and recently, Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University.
For more information on LSAMP, contact Daniels at (478) 825-6245.
Christina D. Milton, editorial assistant
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