Campus: CSU Fullerton -- July 6, 2005

MIRT Program Sends Seven CSUF Students Overseas

Seven Cal State Fullerton students are spending their summer oversees, conducting research as part of the Minority International Research Training (MIRT) program. The students are assisting scientists with projects at the universities of Oxford and York in England and Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

Seven students from four other Southern California universities, including UCLA, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State L.A., also are participating in the program, which is designed to increase the number of minority research scientists.

The CSUF student participants and their scholarly pursuits are described below:

Monica Diaz of Pico Rivera, Erica Sandoval of Anaheim and Laura Sirikulvadhana of Whittier are working at Chang Mai's Department of Community Medicine.

Diaz, a National Honor Society member and senior majoring in health science, is researching the prevalence of breast cancer in Thai women, as well as the need for preventative care and early detection programs.

Sandoval is working on a qualitative analysis of pesticide exposure to residents of the Mae Wang district of Chiang Mai. Sandoval, who graduated last year from UC San Diego with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and cell biology, is enrolled in courses through CSUF's University Extended Education program and aiming for a doctoral program in health science.

Sirikulvadhana is researching HIV and AIDS in sex workers in Chiang Mai. She is a health science senior and a McNair Scholar.

Paul Gerard of Fullerton is conducting research in the laboratory of Christoph Baumann, Department of Biology, University of York. Baumann's project focuses on cloning and understanding the DNA helicase of the Escherichia coli gene. Gerard is a CSUF graduate, having earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing in 1996, then returned in 2003 to pursue a second degree, and is now a senior biological science major.

Diego Miranda of Anaheim is also at York, working in the laboratory of Anne-Kathrin Duhme-Klair, Department of Chemistry. Her research centers on the synthesis of a new fluoroquinolone (a type of antibiotic) and drug delivery system. Miranda, a senior biological science major, is a scholar in the Minority Access to Research Careers program.

Jason Newmark of Tustin is assisting David Sherratt, Department of Biochemistry at Oxford, in researching the genetics of bacterial infections. Newmark is a graduate student majoring in biology; he completed his bachelor's degree in biological science at CSUF in 2003.

Myesha Poland of Chino Hills also is at Oxford, working in the laboratory of Kieran Clarke of the Physiology Department. Clarke's research focuses on studying therapies for cardiac diseases. Poland is a senior majoring in biological science.

MIRT mentors Marcelo E. Tolmasky, CSUF professor of biological science; Vincent C. Merrill, CSUF assistant professor of kinesiology and health science; and Maria Elena Zavala, professor of biology at Cal State Northridge, are overseeing the students during their assignments.

In their spare time, students will have the chance to explore their host countries. Participants receive stipends, travel and living expenses for the summer program.

"On a scale of 1-10, I'd say this [experience] is an 11," Newmark said. "It'll give me cultural diversity and perspective, and it'll look great on my Curriculum Vitae when I'm applying for doctoral programs and can say I've studied at one of the greatest universities in the world."

The MIRT program - now in its 11th year - has enabled more than 120 biomedical, science and health science students to spend the summer studying with top scientists in England, Israel, Mexico and Thailand. The program has been supported by more than $2 million in grant funding from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health.

The idea for the program was hatched at a 1993 lunch meeting between former MIRT director Bruce Weber, CSUF emeritus professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and colleagues from Southern California.

At the time, the group was in Atlanta, attending a National Institute for General Medical Sciences Minority Research Conference. They discussed ways to increase the number of students, particularly minorities, pursuing biomedical research. At the suggestion of a colleague from Cal State Long Beach, Weber applied for a grant from the NIH, and the program was born.

Weber served as MIRT director for nine years before handing over the reins to Tolmasky in 2004.

"The students get to spend 10 weeks doing research at prestigious universities and get to know what it's like in that kind of environment," Tolmasky said. "And they get to meet different people from different cultures, so it's a cultural and scientific experience."

Media Contacts:
Marcelo E. Tolmasky, professor of biological science and MIRT director, at
Vincent C. Merrill, assistant professor of kinesiology and health science, at
Robby Nisenfeld, Public Affairs, (714) 278-3798 or

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