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International Student Uses NSF Internship to Study Minority Representation in Scientific Research

International Student Uses NSF Internship to Study Minority Representation in Scientific Research

By Alli Bates ’16

Mexico native Mikah Barrueta is an honors student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. Outside the classroom, Barrueta conducts microbiology and molecular biology research in the lab of Associate Professor Jennifer Bennett and works on a public health project with Assistant Professor Rob Braun.

With such an ambitious academic regimen, it is no surprise that Barrueta chose to spend her summer in Washington, D.C., as an intern for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in their division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences. 

The NSF gave her the opportunity to create and develop her own research project with the help of distinguished mentors in her field. Barrueta was able to combine three of the Five Cardinal Experiences—research, internship and intercultural engagement—in one project.

“Because I am very passionate about minority-related issues I decided to undertake a project that dealt with the lack of representation of minorities in scientific research. I analyzed various proposals given to the NSF throughout the years and surveyed a number of scientists who submitted said proposals to try and get a better idea of the effort being put into recruiting minorities into research,” said Barrueta.

With an annual budget of $7.3 billion (FY 2015), the NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing. 

“I made lifelong friends while at the NSF. My mentors were supportive and amazing and I quickly became close to the other NSF interns, two of which were my roommates. We experienced D.C. life, visiting all the museums and cultural events the city had to offer. It was because of this internship and meeting many Peace Corps Volunteers who now work at NSF, that I decided to apply to the Peace Corps after graduation,” said Barrueta.

Barrueta is also part of the Women in Science Club, an Otterbein student organization devoted to celebrating women and minorities in science founded last year. She has taken on a leadership role in the organization since the club’s two founders graduated in May.

“The higher the educational level, the fewer minorities we see, and the first step to solving this problem is to discover why exactly this is happening,” said Barrueta.

Barrueta will return to Washington, D.C., to attend the 2015 SACNAS (Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) conference from Oct. 29-31. SACNAS is a society of scientists devoted to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists—from college students to professionals—to attain advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in science.

“I will attend the conference with a few other NSF interns in October and have the chance to attend talks and seminars about groundbreaking research being conducted in the sciences,” said Barrueta.

Learn more about Otterbein’s biochemistry and molecular biology program.

Explore all of the Five Cardinal Experiences.