Curious minds

Real-world research experience sets ambitious students like Eleanor Adams on the path to success.

When Eleanor Adams heard about a program at PSU that supported undergraduates on their journey to becoming scientific researchers, she knew it was the perfect fit for her.

But could the BUILD EXITO program's promises – paid research experiences, faculty and career mentors, summer training opportunities, guidance with graduate school applications – be too good to be true, she wondered?

Nope.

"I don't know how I would be doing as a student if it weren't for the supportive community that BUILD EXITO provides," Eleanor says. "It has been so incredible for me."

“When you invest in the education of inspired young students you’re really investing in our shared future.”

Building University Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) is a National Institutes of Health-sponsored initiative that aims to diversify the ranks of federally funded scientific researchers by supporting students majoring in biomedical and behavioral sciences. Diverse perspectives improve research quality and can improve medical care, in turn addressing racial, ethnic and economic health disparities, evidence indicates.

Eleanor – whose roots stretch to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma through her father's family tree and to Ireland through her mother – is passionate about providing healthcare to immigrant communities.

With a double major in public health and Spanish and a minor in chemistry, Eleanor plans to pursue a medical degree and a doctorate in public health. She sees herself working in a setting such as Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which cares for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Washington and Yamhill counties.

Eleanor, an assistant in Dr. Marilyn Mackiewicz's lab, is researching the beta amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease and says it is exciting and motivating to work on a project with an overarching goal of saving lives. Getting paid for her work has reduced the student loan debt Eleanor has taken on as an undergraduate. With the expenses of medical school still ahead of her, Eleanor says she is deeply grateful.

"Many families would love to help out where they can," Eleanor says. "But at the end of the day I don't know that any of us can pay for college out of pocket."

Ten institutions collaborate with PSU's BUILD EXITO program. Oregon Health & Sciences University is a crucial partner, providing many of the research lab positions that give students a chance to put what they learn in the classroom into action.

Access to experiential learning such as service projects and internships has long been a cornerstone of a PSU education. Partnering with businesses, industries and government agencies to expand paid research and work experiences is the next phase of letting knowledge serve the city, and PSU is looking to BUILD EXITO as a successful model.

Eleanor says she is hopeful that PSU can connect more undergraduates to research positions.

"When you invest in the education of inspired young students you're really investing in our shared future," Eleanor says.