By Tiffany Whitfield

The Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE) program at Old Dominion University is a game changer in science. This National Institute of Health (NIH) funded program opens new pathways for minorities and underrepresented people in science to be able to pursue research and more. As the program enters its second year, learn how it is making rippling impacts at ODU and beyond.

The two principal investigators of this program are Endowed Professor of Chemistry Alvin Holder, Ph.D., FRSC, CChem and Department of Computer Science Desh Ranjan, Ph.D. Holder and Ranjan as co-leaders of U-RISE have worked with sophomores, juniors and seniors and have seen how this uniquely structured program unleashes the potential of helping undergraduate Monarchs find their place in science.

“The goal of the U-RISE program is to develop a diverse pool of undergraduates who complete their baccalaureate degree and transition into and complete biomedical, research-focused higher degree programs (e.g., Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D.),” said Holder. Diversity and inclusivity are at the core of U-RISE, and the program seeks to help undergraduates build technical, operational, and professional skills.

Being paired with a mentor is what sets this program apart from other training programs. Ranjan said, “The U-RISE program pays special attention to student mentoring. The students are paired with a "long-term" research mentor who guides them in their undergraduate research for a period of three to four semesters. These mentors are active researchers and are carefully selected with the student having a significant say in selecting their mentor.”

Each cohort in U-RISE goes through a series of lectures, workshops, trainings and conferences. Holder and Ranjan along with the mentors help the students develop critical thinking and build up their confidence and appetite in independent research. “We lay the foundation of scientific reasoning, rigorous research design, experimental methods, quantitative and computational approaches, and data analysis and interpretation,” said Holder.

Another goal of U-RISE is for students to develop a commitment to approaching and conducting biomedical research responsibly, ethically, and with integrity. “Ultimately, the goal is for students to develop the knowledge, professional skills and experiences required to identify and transition into careers in the biomedical research workforce that sustain biomedical research in areas that are relevant to the NIH mission,” said Holder.

In addition, the U-RISE program at ODU has liaisons from each participating academic department from the College of Sciences. “These liaisons mentor the students by providing them academic advice about course selection each semester, dealing with difficult courses, making the students aware of the resources available to them, helping them with identifying a summer research mentor, helping them with selection of grad schools/post-bac programs to apply to and grad school applications,” said Ranjan. This is a special feature of the ODU U-RISE program and provides an additional level of mentorship beyond research.

Prior to U-RISE, Monarchs Maximizing Access to Research Careers (M-MARC) was the fully funded NIH program where ODU students were able to acquire training and mentors to be able to enter into biomedical science careers. More than 20 students were accepted and went through the M-MARC program that has now transitioned to U-RISE.

Some of the former M-MARC students have gone on to purse doctorate degrees at other rigorous academia colleges. Jasmine Clark, a 2019 graduate M-MARC cohort is pursuing her Ph.D. at Brown University. Additional alumni have gone on to either pursing doctoral degrees at Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and the University of Pennsylvania. Moreover, some alumni are working on post baccalaureate programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other prestigious universities.

Jordan Ortman, a 2021 graduate is working on his Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Central Florida. Ortman is a first-generation college graduate. “I really don't think I would be where I am today without the M-MARC program said Ortman. “It really did have an extremely significant impact on my trajectory through academia, which ultimately ended up with me being in my Ph.D. program that I'm currently in.”

Chole Smith, a 2022 graduate is working on earning a Ph.D. at Cornell University. “They put a lot of emphasis on exposing young students to research opportunities,” said Smith. “I was able to utilize the time that I had here to the most of my ability and I don't really know if I would've had that opportunity at other schools because the M-MARC program is not necessarily at every school.

Novia Mann, a 2023 graduate was accepted into the School of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

“In a way, U-RISE program (2023-2028) is continuation of our M-MARC program even though we had to compete afresh to get the funding and I am glad that NIH recognizes the excellent results of our M-MARC program (2018-2023),” said Ranjan. “A high percentage of the diverse group of M-MARC trainees graduated in time and have either joined a Ph.D. program in Biomedically relevant fields or are working towards it. I believe that these results have led to NIH U-RISE funding for the next five years.”

Currently, there are eight ODU undergraduates in the U-RISE program. These students are taking advantage of research, mentorship, and expanding their knowledge and aptitude in scientific studies.

To apply to be a trainee in U-RISE you must meet one the following criteria:

  • Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Alaskan Native
  • Financially disadvantaged (eligible for Pell grants or equivalent)
  • Disability recognized by the ODU Office of Educational Accessibility

Contact either Professor Alvin Holder at or Professor Desh Ranjan at for more information.