Tag Archives: Curtain University

Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP)


About the Program

The STEP-UP Program provides hands-on summer research experience for high school and for undergraduate students interested in exploring research careers. The overall goal of STEP-UP is to build and sustain a biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social science research pipeline focused on NIDDK’s core mission areas of  diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases and nutrition; kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases.

The STEP-UP Program provides research education grants to seven institutions to coordinate three High School STEP-UP Programs and four Undergraduate STEP-UP Programs. STEP-UP is particularly interested in increasing the participation of students from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical research on a national basis, including individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and individuals with disabilities.

Program Highlights

  • 8 to 12-weeks of full-time research experience
  • Students receive a summer research stipend
  • Students are assigned to a STEP-UP Coordinating Center (PDF, 357 KB) to help coordinate and monitor their summer research experience
  • Students are paired with experienced research mentors at institutions throughout the nation
  • Students are encouraged to choose a research institution and/or mentor near their hometown or within commuting distance of their residence. Students are not required to relocate in order to conduct their summer research
  • Students receive training in the responsible conduct of research
  • All-paid travel expenses to the Annual STEP-UP Research Symposium held on NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Students are given the opportunity to conduct a formal oral and poster presentation

The STEP-UP Program is a federally funded program managed and supported by theOffice of Minority Health Research Coordination (OMHRC) in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).​​​​​​


Man looking into microscope


​Check to see if you meet the eligibility criteria.


​Learn about the application process and deadlines prior to applying.

Apply to STEP-UP
Please read the STEP-UP Application Instructions (PDF, 802 KB) before applying.

Joseph Morina: Curtin University- Perth, Australia

Joseph Morina:
Curtin University- Perth, Australia

What led you to make the decision to study abroad?

I first learned about the study abroad opportunities by attending a study abroad information session.  After working closely with Stephanie Tignor, I was able to contact Dr. Richard Oliver at Curtin University for a possible study abroad research opportunity. He willingly accepted, and soon enough I was buying my plane ticket for Australia.

What classes did you take while abroad and how would you compare them to taking courses on campus at VCU?

Typically, students are enrolled in multiple classes during their study abroad. However, I spent all of my academic time performing research at the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP) located at Curtin University. Under the guidance of an incredible post-doc, I ran experiments ranging from gene knockout to growing wheat cultivars.

Elaborate on your research experience.

Pathenogenisis of Pyrenophora tritici-repentis (PTR)

Plant-pathogen interactions are of extreme importance when dealing with economic crops and ultimately national food stores. Tan spot disease of wheat causes significant economic losses worldwide, and is the most widespread and damaging wheat disease in Australia. The disease is caused by the necrotrophic fungal pathogen Pyrenophora tritici-repentis (Ptr), costing upwards of 212 million dollars in lost yield each year.  The ACNFP at Curtin University has decided to tackle this problem using advanced genetic and molecular biology techniques to study the pathogenicity mechanisms of this fungus. During my study abroad semester, I aided in the identification of novel host-specific toxins produced by different Ptr isolates.


Figure 1 Example of a single cultivar treated with culture filtrate to determine susceptibility.

Other avenues of my research included testing new wheat cultivars with fungal toxins to determine cultivar sensitivity, as well as generating fungal gene knockouts that will be used to characterize candidate toxin genes. The goal of this research project, as with all other research projects undertaken by the ACNFP, is to gain fundamental knowledge of necrotrophic fungal pathosystems in order to reduce the incidence and severity of fungal crop diseases, to help guide growers in cultivar selection, and to develop molecular tools to ultimately breed out disease susceptibility. I thoroughly enjoyed being at the interface of practical and applied science, seeing research results make a direct impact on crop yields was a very rewarding experience.

What were your most memorable experiences while studying abroad?

While in Australia, I traveled up and down the west coast, drinking in the beauty and warmth of the sunburned nation. I got to spend many nights in the Australian outback, falling asleep under the stars. I also got travel to Indonesia, where I dove coral reefs, climbed volcanoes, and visited Hindu temples. I was fortunate to meet people from a multitude of cultures. Many languages were new to my ears. More importantly, I got to try foods that hid flavors I had never tasted before. I still keep in contact with many of the people I met in Perth to this day. I will be traveling with friends from Australia this summer.

What would you say to a student who is considering studying abroad?

Go talk to someone at the GEO today. Take a risk!

Audrey Kirschner: Curtin University- Perth, Australia

Audrey Kirschner: Curtin University- Perth, Australia

What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to study abroad?

I chose to participate in study abroad simply to try something new, to visit a new place, and to see new things.

What program and destination did you choose and why?

As I began researching where to study, I realized that Australia would be perfect for me as a biology student focusing on ecology. I chose the program in Perth because I had heard that the Western Coast of Australia was one of the most bio-diverse and beautiful parts of Australia.

kirchner kangaroo
What classes did you take while abroad and how would you compare them to taking courses on campus at VCU?

When signing up for classes at Curtin University, I was thrilled by the course options available. Of the multitude of options, I chose to partake in Marine Biodiversity, Conservation, Botany, and Quantitative biology. Not only did the classes sound interesting, but once I began the classes I realized they were also highly hands-on. Rather than studying for in-class exams, assignments consisted of writing on a topic or performing various field collections. Although the assignment grading was vigorous, I learned so much more from the assignments than I would have from testing. Of course not everyone is interested in ecology, but Ive heard from other students that most programs are similar in that the students are very involved and interactive in the lessons.

Although I did not partake in any research while at Curtin, I often heard of many opportunities in research. Even outside of the university, there are many opportunities to get involved in various ecological volunteering. I did get involved in volunteering and met wonderful new people through this.

For you, what were the benefits of studying abroad?

Overall, I loved my experience abroad. Not only have I learned new things I likely would not have at VCU (such as the very different flora and fauna), but I have grown more responsible from the experience. Just from being here, I have enhanced my resume and broadened my network. There is not one negative that comes along with studying abroad; it is entirely, from my point of view, a wonderful experience.

What would you say to a student who is considering studying abroad?

Its important to do that extra research as well to find a place that has the right courses for you, and even better, ones that may not be offered at home. As far as other preparations go, its important to get on it early, although I had no problems and the Global Education Office is always very helpful. All in all, studying abroad is a wonderful experience that everyone should partake, in and I would recommend it to anyone.

One thing that I would recommend to students once they go abroad is to get involved in as many things as possible. In most cases you are only here for a short time and you dont want to miss anything. I also recommend trying for a location slightly out of your comfort zone. I chose to come to Australia and although I loved it, sometimes I wish I chose a place that spoke a different language or had a completely different culture.

kirchner perth