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Two UM Graduate Students Named to Medical Research Training Program

Staff Report

University of Mississippi

Zakary Patrick. Submitted photo

The Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center has selected UM doctoral students Miguel DeLeon and Zakary Patrick as members of its fourth cohort of the Robert L. Smith, M.D. Scholars Program. 

The two-year program provides scholars with intense research training and mentoring. Each scholar commits to attending summer training institutes for two consecutive summers, two mid-year meetings and quarterly webinars, along with other opportunities for national conferencing and networking. 

This guarantees each scholar has regular interaction with senior researchers and mentors throughout the program. Mentors will help the scholars learn to write peer-reviewed manuscripts, conduct analyses and make scientific presentations.

“This training and mentoring program is meant to complement the doctoral training each participant receives at their respective university,” said Jennifer Reneker, assistant dean for scholarly innovation in the John D. Bower School of Population Health and associate professor of population health science. 

“The hope is that we give them a competitive edge and enhanced skill set to move them forward into the next chapter in their professional life, as researchers.”

A second-year doctoral student in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Biomolecular Sciences, DeLeon focuses his research on pain and psychedelics. He hopes to infuse his passion for mentorship and diverse, equitable and inclusive environments into the STEM field. 

“My research through this scholarship will focus on utilizing inflammatory biomarkers as a predictive measure to prevent the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the Jackson Heart Study,” the Houston, Texas, native said. 

“The primary goal of this program is to enhance my knowledge and skills in cardiovascular epidemiology, health disparities and in the responsible conduct of research. As well as to advance the science of research training and education of graduate students in health-related professions.”

Patrick, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, housed in the School of Applied Sciences, will study health and kinesiology in the exercise and memory laboratory. 

“Being named a Robert L. Smith, MD Scholar is an honor,” said the native of Youngstown, Ohio. “It allows me to further expand my knowledge and experience in research and epidemiology, and it also allows me to meet and network with a fantastic group of peers and mentors.

“Being exposed to, discussing and potentially publishing work with the intention of promoting health and physical activity benefits for the African American population in the greater Jackson area and beyond is deeply rewarding. I am excited to take what I learn from this experience into my future endeavors and journey in academia.”

Applicants for the program must be doctoral-level students at Ole Miss, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi or the UM Medical Center. They must be individuals from a group identified by the National Institutes of Health as underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences.

Besides the two Ole Miss students, the cohort also consists of one student from UMMC and three from MSU. The cohort first met over the summer for an intensive training at the Jackson Medical Mall Conference Center. 

UMMC-GTEC is part of the NIH-funded Jackson Heart Study, the largest community-based study of cardiovascular disease risk factors in African Americans. The center provides doctoral and health professional students considering careers in cardiovascular health opportunities to participate in the research process alongside mentors from leading research institutions.

A native of Terry, Dr. Robert L. Smith is one of Mississippi’s heroes of health care. 

He is nationally respected for his leadership as the founder of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. As part of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this organization successfully pressured health care institutions across the South to expand access to health services for and end unequal treatment of African Americans. 

He founded Mississippi Family Health Center in 1963 and remains a practicing physician.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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