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Simmons Wins Prestigious STEM Grant

The award supports a summer undergraduate research program in synthetic biology.

Simmons has secured a National Science Foundation award establishing the University as a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site. For each of three summers, starting this year, the $215,377 award will enable Simmons to host six students from around the country who are interested in pursuing research careers in STEM fields. Two slots each summer are reserved for Simmons students.

Photo above: Professor Jennifer Roecklein-Canfield

The University’s REU partner, North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C., received its own grant and will host an equal number of students. The two institutions will engage in joint, virtual programming.

At both campuses, the focus will be on synthetic biology, an emerging field integrating multiple disciplines, including biology, mathematics, chemistry, and computer science. Faculty in those fields will serve as mentors.  

“The National Science Foundation recognizes there is high-caliber research being done at Simmons,” says Professor Jennifer Roecklein-Canfield.

Chemistry and physics Professor Jenna Roecklein-Canfield says pursuing the NSF grant has been a labor of love. “This award means the National Science Foundation recognizes there is high-caliber research being done at Simmons, and that we have research-active faculty prepared to really 
engage and train undergraduates.” She notes that REU grants typically go to larger universities with labs populated by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Assistant Professor Mariam Ismail

“The goal of these REU grants is to attract a broad and diverse group of students on a national level,” says chemistry and physics Associate Professor Mariam Ismail, co-primary investigator with Roecklein-Canfield on the Simmons grant. “We’re really trying to target undergraduate women and men who don’t have access to research.”In that regard, Roecklein-Canfield says Simmons is building on a strong track record. “We already have higher-than-average numbers of ALANA students coming through our science majors, being successful, and going on to grad school and medical school.”