Established in 2011, BRUSH—Biomedical Research for University Students in Health Sciences—is a summer research program at Michigan State University hosted by the College of Veterinary Medicine, although students from a wide range of disciplines participate. This year, BRUSH partnered with another summer research program, which doubled the size of the cohort and added environmental sciences as a focus area, in order to (1) engage more, and more diverse, students and (2) gain more University support.
“The advantage of melding together is we get to partner on recruitment and retention,” says Dr. Sue Ewart, BRUSH director and professor for the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. “I view this as an opportunity to really find the best fit for every student.”
Dr. Jim Luyendyk, professor for the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, agrees that this is an opportunity for similar forces to work together. “I took over another program that focused on environmental science research from Dr. Bill Atchison, which was funded by an R25 grant from the National Institutes of Health [NIH]. But after talking to Dr. Ewart about what she does so well with BRUSH, we asked ourselves, ‘Why are we competing against each other?’
“It’s not about ownership,” Luyendyk reiterates. “It’s about capitalizing on what we have and making it better than ever for our students.”
The original BRUSH Program also was funded by an R25 grant from NIH—specifically, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Ewart brings that same funding power to the new expanded BRUSH Program, and hopes for more. “With multiple funding mechanisms, plus institutional support from both the College and University, we’ve become more of an umbrella,” she says. “And more funding means more opportunity for students. So, that’s what we’re building.”
Joining Ewart and Luyendyk as BRUSH Program co-directors is Dr. Jamie Bernard, an associate professor for the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology who researches early-stage cancer intervention. She notes the timing was right for the two programs to join forces. “It’s great that we have an expanded program supported by multiple principal investigators. Our goal is for BRUSH to be even better than last year. We can do that with a critical mass of students,” Bernard says.
Ewart agrees. “We need that critical mass to serve more students in minority groups in science. That’s the power of this new collaboration and leadership. That, combined with our fresh ideas, will take us further than we’ve ever gone. Right now, it’s really good, and it’s going to be even better.”
All this growth will make the BRUSH Program stand out more to students looking for summer research opportunities, which is good news because the competition to recruit participants is tight. MSU hosts nearly 40,000 undergraduate students, and BRUSH is one program out of many.
“The expanded BRUSH Program is much more attractive than one of two smaller, separate programs,” Luyendyk explains. “Combining our programs enables our students to meet way more people from tons more places. This opens them up to more career paths and opportunities that they may not have been exposed to before, which is really exciting.”