By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2013, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
TULSA — Ken Miller and Diana Spencer told me the same story one day this summer about a Ph.D. student, although neither was aware the other was sharing it. The two college professors were 13 miles apart on separate campuses.
Miller is professor and chairman of anatomy and cell biology at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and conducts research on inflammatory diseases such as arthritis in the human body.
Spencer is coordinator of the Biotech Program at Tulsa Community College’s Southeast Campus.
They each were discussing a graduate student whom we will call “Heith.”
A Tulsa resident who was pursuing a doctorate in the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Pharmaceutical Program in Oklahoma City, Heith needed a Tulsa-based mentor and access to a research laboratory.
Miller, who also serves as an adjunct professor at OU, agreed to serve as Heith’s adviser. He recommended that Heith enroll in Spencer’s program at the community college to learn biotech laboratory techniques.
That’s sort of the road less traveled for a Ph.D. candidate.
“He had some educational needs in terms of hands-on experience,” Miller said. “So we contacted Diana at TCC, and he went over there and took her courses.”
Added Spencer: “Heith had been a pharmacist for 15 years and needed updated bench skills. Dr. Miller sent him to me, and he went through all our courses but one.”
The schools displayed a spirit of cooperation that reflects their membership in the Tulsa Area Bioscience Education and Research Consortium (TABERC). The consortium got its start in 2009 with four founding schools and soon expanded to nine.
In addition to Tulsa Community College and OSU-Tulsa, members now include the OU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa, Northeastern State University’s Broken Arrow campus, Oral Roberts University, Rogers State University, Langston University’s Tulsa campus, the University of Tulsa and Tulsa Technology Center.
The consortium is chaired by founding member Kent Teague, associate professor in the Departments of Surgery and Psychiatry on OU’s Tulsa campus.
Teague calls the consortium a grassroots initiative. Motivation came from the desire to help students.
“At each of the major research universities, we had for years been approached by many students hoping to find opportunities to shadow in laboratories or for internships,” Teague said. “We took in all we could but would turn away many others. At our first consortium meeting, we decided this was our highest priority.”
A formal internship program was created that puts four to six interns into labs across the city each summer. It has awarded 19 internships in the first three years of the program.
“The internships are more than the usual stints in someone’s lab at a university,” Teague said.
Interns start their summer with an orientation and then attend a “boot camp” at Tulsa Community College where they learn basic laboratory skills before moving into their lab assignments for the summer. They wrap it all up with a slide presentation for all nine consortium institutions.
In addition, internship coordinator Julie Marino provides career advice to the interns along the way.
Consortium members support one another in diverse areas. They support grant applications on other campuses, promote each other’s events, spread news of research jobs and help graduate students such as Heith reach their goals.
In the competitive world of academia, perhaps that’s truly the road less traveled.
Jim Stafford is Communications Specialist with i2E, Inc., in Oklahoma City.