In fall 2007, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Extramural Associates Research Development Award (EARDA) was implemented at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida. The NIH EARDA award was designed to build research infrastructure and encourage development of externally funded research at minority-serving institutions to encourage more minority students to enter the sciences and pursue biomedical research careers.
St. Thomas University, an undergraduate teaching institution, is a designated Minority Serving Institution (MSI) and Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Its enrollment is comprised of 47% Hispanic, 27% African American/Caribbean and 10% International undergraduates. The award helped establish the university's first Office of Sponsored Research and to initiate a research development program.
The Boyer Commission Report on undergraduate education (1998) recommended providing every undergraduate student with research opportunities beginning in the freshman year. Historically, teaching institutions without strong research components have experienced greater financial risks due to stiff competition from more established research institutions (Kenny, 2003). Research participation has been effective in promoting retention of students at greater risk for college attrition, especially minority students (Nagda, Gregerman, Jonides, VonHippel, & Lerner, 1998). Evidence suggests the need for teaching institutions to expand research opportunities for faculty and students, to enhance both academic quality and financial sustainability (Strassburger, 1995). However, institutions that transition from a teaching to a research focus typically experience difficulties with funding and personnel support (Harman & Selim, 1991). The NIH EARDA grant helps address this challenge by providing infrastructure and support to stimulate research activities at MSIs that historically have not engaged to a great degree in externally funded research.
What is the NIH EARDA Program?
The NIH established the Extramural Associates Program in 1978 to produce a cadre of academic research administrators who could promote the participation of institutions with high ethnic minority student enrollments in rigorous biomedical and behavioral research programs. The program is administered within the Division of Special Populations of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The EARDA Program was created to develop institutional capacity to support external research grant proposals, provide administrative structure to manage grant awards, and increase biomedical and behavioral research at minority-serving institutions.
As part of the award requirements, the participating institution nominates an Extramural Associate (EA) who is trained in grant processes used by the NIH and other federal agencies to support biomedical and behavioral research and training. The program instructs the EA in the role of academic research administrators in research development. EARDA is designed to stimulate the building of research infrastructure and development, and to facilitate a sustainable capacity in research administration at institutions with limited resources for implementing fundable biomedical and behavioral research.
To strengthen research administration infrastructure at minority-serving and women's institutions, the EARDA Program trains the EAS to: 1) be leaders for research administration at their institutions; 2) help colleges acquire trained sponsored research staff and establish the infrastructure for grants acquisition and management; 3) identify best practices and encourage the MSI to institutionalize sponsored research practices; 4) establish a process for evaluating capacity development in research administration; and 5) encourage student participation in faculty research. EAs participate in distance learning and on-site residency training at the NIH in federal grants terminology and funding mechanisms, receipt and referral of applications, peer review, program funding cycles, grants management basics, use of human and animal subjects in research, electronic grant submission, best practices for sponsored research, and development of a network of contacts at federal funding agencies.
This author was the EA for St. Thomas University and was trained in a 10-week residency at NIH in the topics shown in Table 1.
Once the NIH residency is complete, EAs possess a working knowledge of federal support for biomedical and behavioral research and training, and skills in preparing research applications and postaward management, and are prepared to expand research infrastructure and development at their MSIs.