Sierra_picSierra Valois ’16 loves science. In fact, one of the things that first attracted her to URI’s biotechnology program was that she could take a full schedule of science courses in her first year.

By the end of her freshman year she was certified to work in a lab, and that summer she began a paid internship with two research professors at URI’s Providence campus, home to our Biotechnology Center and Institute for Immunology and Informatics. In the lab, Sierra made digital images of live cells infected with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal without medical treatment. Researchers use these fluorescent images to study interactions between the dengue virus and host cells.

Sierra’s summer internship led to a part-time lab job during the academic year. It also lead her to discover her passion for fluorescent microscopy—creating fluorescent images of cells.

Sierra’s rapid progress from URI freshman to paid lab assistant is thanks to the Rhode Island IDeA Network Biomedical Research in Education (INBRE) program that funds students and their mentors working on groundbreaking biomedical research in Rhode Island labs. In 2001, a large initial grant helped launch RI-INBRE—which is based at URI and housed at the College of Pharmacy. Since then, the program has provided more than 1,000 opportunities for students, post-graduates, and faculty. This year the National Institutes of Health awarded an additional $18.8 million grant to RI-INBRE.

This latest grant renewal continues to fund scientists—and undergraduates who work with them—as they explore the cellular and molecular activities that lead to devastating diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. And, whether you want to discover new cures, or use nanoparticles to invent cancer drug delivery systems, you can do it all in grant-funded modern labs with the latest in research equipment and materials.

The INBRE grant can also open the door for undergraduates, like Sierra, to co-author papers sent to peer-reviewed journals, participate in workshops and seminars by world-renowned scholars, and collaborate with experienced scientists in the annual Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program.

With experiences like these on your resume, you’ll not only have the opportunity to discover your own passion, you’ll be well poised to compete for research jobs at universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical and engineering companies—anywhere life-changing work is being done in a lab.