iTHRIV Program Promotes Data Science Foundation
for HBCU Students

“It got me on the computer more, it got me coding a bit more, it got me using R a bit more, because before I wanted to stay very far away from the computer and now I want to program every day,” a smiling K’Risa Chesterfield recalls. “I didn’t start out [with] an interest in doing any of that, like I didn’t want to code anything or know any type of other language besides English or Spanish or something. But it definitely opened my eyes to a bunch of different other things.”

K’Risa is one of the first students to matriculate from the Collaborative Undergraduate Biostatistics Experience (CUBE). CUBE was conceived by Dr. Alexandra Hanlon, Director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Biostatistics and Health Data Science (CBDHS) and Co-Director of the iTHRIV Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design (BERD) Methods Core, to provide a holistic approach to undergraduate biostatistics education and increase representation in science. The program is jointly managed by the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) and Virginia Tech’s CBHDS, and launched in the summer of 2021 with two students studying mathematics from Virginia State University in Richmond.

CUBE is a 12-week program that educates and empowers undergraduate students in biostatistics through a full-time collaborative data analysis project, along with related professional development seminars, social events, and a final symposium where students present their research. The data analysis projects are based on real-world questions posed by subject matter investigators and collaborators committed to increasing the number of biostatisticians from HBCUs. CBHDS Assistant Director Alicia Lozano explains, “[CBHDS] Director, Dr. Alex Hanlon, was invited to present at Virginia State University as part of a Virginia Tech HBCU diversity initiative in March of 2021. This program arose from a gap of understanding how statistics can be utilized beyond the classroom as well as the need to bring diversity into the collaborative biostatistics profession.”

 

“To go along with our program name, these six guiding principles reflect the six colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, white) that make up a Rubik’s cube.”

 

These principles are developed and reinforced throughout the program. Exercises include daily check-ins, mentorship sessions, resume writing workshops, and even a poster presentation. The program contains a mix of presentations and discussions with opportunities for students to build their experience while exploring different aspects of biostatistics. ​

Image by Mathias P.R. Reding

The CUBE program is based on six guiding principles:

  1. Respecting CUBE student researchers and CBHDS collaborators as professional colleagues

  2. Fostering community

  3. Encouraging broader participation in the research community

  4. Promoting an understanding of team science

  5. Developing lasting relationships and networks

  6. Providing opportunities for professional development

Preparations are underway for summer 2022. Based on feedback from the pilot program in 2021, the administrative team plans to incorporate guest speakers committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), add registration to the Joint Statistical Meeting (JSM) in August, and organize opportunities for students to present their research and participate in other networking activities. Alicia is enthusiastic about the future of the program: “We are very excited to expand the CUBE program to 4 students studying mathematics and/or statistics from Virginia HBCUs in summer 2022, two of which will be hosted at Virginia Tech and the other two by our colleagues at University of Virginia. Our plans for summer 2023 include expanding the program nationally to HBCU students across the United States.”

Though 2021 was the only the pilot year, for K’Risa, the benefits were palpable. “I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed being a part of the program. It was genuinely eye opening! I will be adding this and everything that I’ve done to my resume.” K’Risa also expressed her desire to apply for graduate programs in Epidemiology, a field she admittedly did not know existed prior to her experience with CUBE.

Recruitment for summer 2022 has begun. Visit the CUBE webpage for more information. 

 

About CBHDS

Located in Roanoke Virginia, the Center for Biostatistics and Health Data Science seeks to achieve excellence in Virginia Tech’s health- and medically-related research portfolio through fostering collaborations across biostatistics, data science, health analytics, computer science, engineering, bioinformatics, biology, database management and integration, project coordination, clinical practice, health economics, translation and public policy. CBHDS is housed in Virginia Tech’s Department of Statistics, in the College of Science.

 

About iTHRIV

iTHRIV is a cross-state translational research institute which combines the expertise of clinical translational biomedical researchers and data scientists to create infrastructure and investigator resources for using data to improve health across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Partner sites include University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, and Inova Health System. iTHRIV is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, through award number UL1TR003015.