NIH grant helps launch an ECSU research program

Kesha Williams
September 29, 2005Dr. Ephraim Gwebu's dream of an international research program for ECSU students has come true. An $875,448 grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) arrived. It provides funds needed to support student international research internships, laboratory supplies and travel expenses to link students to their research colleagues in Botswana and South Africa during the summer. This Elizabeth City State University Minority Health Institute Research Training Program (E-MHIRT) involves young scholars in crucial research into the impact diabetes and HIV/AIDS have on minorities. In addition, students will be involved in drug discovery for the treatment of such diseases as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and stroke. These diseases disproportionately affect minorities in the U.S., especially African-Americans and Hispanics. Dr. Gwebu said he is delighted to involve undergraduate students in research so relevant to their lives. "The statistics are staggering when you look at the differences between the majority population and minorities suffering from diseases as well as deaths from these diseases," Dr. Gwebu said. "These diseases are touching the lives of our students. I tell them it's not just research or all about money from a big grant. It's about saving and serving the generation before you as well as your own generation!" This is a four-year grant that will benefit the ECSU Chemistry and Physics departments. Each year, 10 students will receive a stipend for their internship and travel to work with prominent African scientists at the University of Botswana and the University of Zululand, South Africa. Over the life of the grant, 40 different ECSU students will participate in this program. Prospective E-MHIRT students must have an appreciation for African culture, outstanding grade point averages, and a keen interest in scientific research. At the end of their summer research internship, they will present their findings at the Research Symposium held in Botswana, Africa. Dr. Gwebu says this opportunity may come as a surprise to ECSU students who thought biomedical and behavioral research were exclusive privileges of tenured scientists at the nation's most prestigious universities. He assures the students they have a role to play as young adults. As a native of Zimbabwe, English was not Dr. Gwebu's first language. Yet, he learned the language by diligently reading class materials, studying dictionaries, reading newspapers and books. He earned dual degrees in Chemistry and Education, a doctorate degree in physiological chemistry and has conducted numerous related research projects. Now, he warns American students they must be determined to take full advantage of educational opportunities to help eliminate health disparities in this country. "We have to push them (undergraduate students) now. Nobody told them in high school that they could do this kind of research but you can't accept a stationary place in life," Gwebu said. "I believe that faculty at ECSU should take these students from where they are as freshmen and bring them to the level where they are motivated to succeed in their quest for excellence. We must make them accountable for their learning." "I often ask them how badly do they want it-success. When freshmen or sophomores come to me wanting to drop a chemistry or physics class because they are struggling, I say 'no we must find a tutor, if you are already spending quality time in your studies. Do not always take a line of least resistance. You must reject the possibility of failure just because a course seems difficult.' " Dr. Gwebu is pleased to say a number of juniors and seniors in biology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology have the necessary grades and research potential to qualify for the Minority Health Institute Research Training Program. He is confident fellow professors at partnering universities will also prove valuable mentors for the undergraduates. Similar research initiatives have been conducted recently so Dr. Gwebu says the time is right to bring ECSU undergraduates on board.