Overview of the Interface of the Cobb Research Laboratory and the Robert Wood Johnson Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at Howard University

Donna Grant-Mills, RDH, M.Ed., DDS 1,2

  1. W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University
  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

The Summer Medical Dental Medical Education Program (SMDEP), funded by Robert Wood Johnson and hosted by Howard University Colleges of Dentistry and Medicine provides 80 academically talented premedical and pre-dental students from under-represented groups with STEM based academic enrichment, mentoring, clinical shadowing opportunities and cultural enrichment. The scholars conduct hands-on interdisciplinary bio-anthropological and biomedical research on the 19th and 20th century human skeletal and dental remains, artifacts, and publish in The Backbone, the official journal of the Cobb Research Laboratory. Scholars are trained, paired with, and work closely with peer mentors, and senior scientists to reconstruct and present case studies on the culture, health, lives and deaths of the individuals in the Cobb Collection. The scholars that complete their research objectives and case studies are presented with a certificate of meritorious research at the SMDEP Closing Ceremony. The value the collaboration is multifaceted. First, for the majority of the 2015 cohort (82.5%), it was their first formal research experience. Second, it connected the scholars to mentors in STEM and other disciplines thus providing them with team based inter-professional experience which is the new gold standard for healthcare delivery. Third, they gain more confidence in their ability to pursue future STEM based opportunities, and fourth they gained a firm understanding of importance of approaching research with cultural sensitivity and respect, by taking into account the socio- economics, history, racial climate, inequalities, and other factors faced by the individuals of the Cobb Collection. As people of color, primarily African Americans, the scholars gained a sense of ownership over and respect of their cultural legacy, and a sense of responsibility with regard to how their ancestors are treated, studied, and documented for future generations.

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