Summer Research Program Opens Doors for Disadvantaged Students

By Genevieve Long

Every summer, a dozen or so college students are chosen to join OHSU faculty and research staff for hands-on lab work. For a student planning a health care career, it’s an enviable opportunity. But these aren’t just any students. Participants in OHSU’s Summer Equity Research Program are high achievers who face socioeconomic challenges to entering the health sciences careers they dream about.

Vanessa Lianoz is one of those students. This summer, the Clackamas Community College nursing student worked in the human performance laboratory with Kerri Winters, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing. She entered data, ran statistical analyses and graphed results for the GET FIT trial, a community-based study of exercise for women after cancer treatment.Photo by Jules Garza

“It was eye-opening,” Lianoz says. “I didn’t have a research background. I wanted to learn what nurses can do in research, but I also had a lot of preconceived notions about what research is.” Patiently working with raw data, watching patterns emerge, taught her a new way of thinking that she says will influence her future learning. “I’ve been trained to assess patients and consider what to do in each moment. But in research, it’s not about figuring out the trend in the moment. It’s about piecing together the data, taking your time and stepping back to view the big picture.”

Winters says the Summer Equity program helps students appreciate the rigor of the research process. “Vanessa quickly realized how scientific inquiry can lead to better patient care,” Winters says. “Recognizing where clinical information should be coming from — high-quality research— has the potential to make her a better nurse.”

The Summer Equity Research Program is run by OHSU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion. By providing opportunities for disadvantaged students, it connects OHSU’s education mission with its vision of helping all Oregonians. The chance for hands-on research and mentoring is especially important for students whose home communities may not include many educational role models.

After completing her associates’ degree at CCC, Lianoz plans to enter the OHSU School of Nursing for her BSN. She is grateful that the Oregon Consortium of Nursing Education partnership between OHSU and Oregon community colleges allows her to make this transition seamlessly. The support she has received through the Summer Equity internship and the chance to continue directly to her bachelor’s degree make it easier for Lianoz to be a trailblazer. “My parents never got to go to school, and it was hard to get my education started because I was on my own,” she says. “Opportunities like this allow me to enter a career I love.”

To qualify for a Summer Equity internship, a student must come from a low-income family, have parents who did not attend or finish college or face other social or economic disadvantages. Applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents who have completed a full year of college coursework by the internship’s start date, including courses in basic science and mathematics. Once accepted, interns spend eight to 10 weeks working in the laboratory of an OHSU faculty mentor or, in a few cases, shadowing a clinical faculty member.

Like Lianoz, students learn basic research skills and gain laboratory or clinical experience. In addition to working on a project in the mentor’s lab, they take part in weekly lab meetings and learn the first steps in scientific publication by preparing a poster on their summer’s work. Faculty mentors and other lab members provide personal guidance on education and career choices. In addition to Winters, Lianoz talked with a lab member who is earning her Ph.D. in nursing education. “She told me more about what nurses can do in research, including working in clinics that are carrying out studies. It helped me understand the broad opportunities for nurses and the importance of research to clinical care.”


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