The University of West Florida was recently selected to receive a National Institute of Health (NIH) grant totaling approximately $930,000, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Karen Molek, assistant professor and director of Chemistry Scholars, and Dr. Michael Huggins, professor and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The award money will be distributed over the next five years.
UWF was awarded the Maximizing Access to Research Career Programs through Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research, or MARC U-STAR, grant to provide support for underrepresented undergraduate students pursuing PhD or MD/PhD degrees in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.
The grant provides financial support to students to allow them to spend more time in the research lab, thereby improving their preparation for high-caliber graduate programs. According to the NIH website, the grant program also supports efforts to strengthen the science course curricula and pedagogical skills of faculty and biomedical research training at institutions with significant enrollments of students from underrepresented groups.
“Dr. Huggins and I have the privilege of using this award to mentor students and help them achieve greater success than they ever dreamed,” Molek said. “Research scientists capable of solving health concerns of the 21st century will require collaborative research from a diverse workforce. The diversity of professional research scientists can only result when all students are given the opportunity to ascertain their potential. My goal is to help remove financial barriers so that all students have the opportunity to receive a high quality education.”
The grant money will be used to fund tuition and a portion of housing expenses for UWF students participating in the MARC Scholars Program, as well as summer stipends for students to conduct research on and off campus during the summer semester. Additional funds will go toward research supply stipends for UWF faculty mentors and more.
A portion of the grant will fund small research stipends for 17 UWF faculty members from the biology, chemistry and physics departments who will mentor MARC Scholars in the research lab. Additionally, 43 faculty members from 26 Research intensive institutions have agreed to host and mentor UWF MARC Scholars in their research labs during a summer semester.
The UWF Department of Chemistry has a 94 percent acceptance rate for students who continue on to graduate school. It is also home to the UWF Chemistry Scholars Program, which has helped improve the percentage of underrepresented chemistry graduates from 5 percent in 2008-2012 to 32 percent in 2013-2014. The number of underrepresented chemistry graduates pursuing graduate degrees has also risen from 2 percent in 2008-2012 to 17 percent in 2012-2014, in part as a result of the creation of the UWF Chemistry Scholars program.
Molek said the grant will also aid in the University’s efforts to expand the UWF Chemistry Scholars program into other STEM departments across campus and secure additional federal grants.
“The MARC U-STAR grant will allow UWF to increase the opportunities for students majoring in biology, chemistry and physics by providing them with experiences and training that will help them be outstanding scientists, researchers and physicians,” Huggins said. “The mentoring and research training provided to students will play a critical role in their professional development, helping to ensure they have the best chances of being successful.”
For additional information about the UWF Department of Chemistry, visit uwf.edu/chemistry.
Over the past 20 years, University of West Florida archaeologist Margo Stringfield has shared the history and archaeology of Pensacola’s past with the public. Recently, one such story involving one of the first Englishmen to own property in Pensacola, British Naval Captain Sir John Lindsay, and a slave named Maria Belle proved to be a missing link that connects Pensacola to 18thcentury happenings on a broader world stage through the development of the British film, Belle.
Lindsay served as commander of the British Naval Forces in Pensacola from 1764 to 1765. Along with other high-ranking British officials and immigrants flowing into the new colony he was granted a town lot, located on the west end of present-day downtown Pensacola. Although he left Pensacola in 1765, Lindsay retained ownership of the property until late 1773, when documents show that he conveyed his lot in Pensacola to Maria Belle who is noted as being a “Negro woman” of Pensacola living in London at that time. Less than six months later, the lot conveyance was confirmed in Pensacola.
For Stringfield, this story was not only the focus of a master’s thesis; through ongoing research the story of Lindsay and Maria Belle continues to shed new light on Pensacola’s colonial community as a whole.
“Pensacola has one of the richest cultural heritages of any city in the United States,” Stringfield said. “We want to bring that heritage to the public. One of the goals we have at the UWF Archaeology Institute is to share with the public who we are, where we came from and provide a better understanding of the people who contributed to the making of our city, our state and our country. We also look for links between Pensacola and the world at large.
That goal became a reality when news of Belle, a recently released film that highlights the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, daughter of Lindsay and Maria Belle who was raised in London by her great uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield of England, reached Stringfield. Although Belle touches only lightly on Dido’s mother and does not directly state a link to Pensacola, Stringfield said the visually splendid and thought-provoking film does raise awareness of a complex period of history on both sides of the Atlantic.
“At the beginning of the British occupation in Pensacola, we have a distinguished naval captain tasked with charting the northern Gulf Coast of England’s newly acquired colony,” she said. “We also have a slave who became a free woman of means and was part of a period of our city’s history that literally ended with a bang: the 1781 Battle of Pensacola. Inhabitants of Pensacola at the time were witnesses to a pivotal turning point in the American fight for independence. Meanwhile, in London, we have a daughter who is rightfully depicted as a young woman caught up in the dialogue over the abolition of slavery.”
The Maria Belle project is an excellent example of the Archaeology Institute’s interdisciplinary approach to research. Stringfield has worked with more than 30 UWF students, faculty, and staff since the early 1990s to construct the story of Lindsay, Maria Belle and their movements within the colonial community of Pensacola and beyond using British and Spanish primary resource materials. The archaeology of the colonial community is invaluable in telling the story.
With the release of Belle, Stringfield is hopeful that there will be growing interest in Pensacola’s history and archaeology, as well as increased awareness of the University’s efforts to uncover Northwest Florida’s past.
“UWF has been the driving force in bringing the history and archaeology of our area to the public. And, within the Division of Anthropology and Archaeology, we strive to offer students the opportunity to work on unique projects. From excavations on 16th century Spanish shipwrecks to British house lots, UWF is bringing the past to life.”