New Rising STARS program will train and diversify the next generation of scientists to confront the addiction epidemic with “cell to society” perspective
USC is partnering with California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) on a new $1.3 million, five-year training grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to create a first-of-its-kind program to enhance diversity in the next generation of addiction scientists.
This innovative, transdisciplinary program will train undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups in the fields of alcohol and substance use disorders. The program, Rising STARS (Scientific Training in Alcohol Research and other Substances), will be led by Daryl Davies, associate dean of undergraduate education and professor at the USC School of Pharmacy.
“Our mission is to develop the creativity and intellectual talents of our most motivated undergraduate students and enrich future addiction science research through their participation,” said Davies, associate director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science, which unites experts from the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the USC School of Pharmacy, USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and other affiliated Schools at USC as well as clinical centers to study and treat addiction.
The five-year educational and research experience program brings USC together with neighboring CSULA and CDU–representing one of the largest pools of talented underrepresented minority students in the U.S.
Students from USC, CSULA, and CDU will be recruited for the program. Rising STARS scholars will have the opportunity to train in preclinical, human laboratory, clinical, public health, social welfare and policy approaches under the direction of faculty mentors from a breadth of disciplines spanning the USC School of Pharmacy, Keck School of Medicine of USC, USC Price School of Public Policy, USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Although Rising STARS scholars may ultimately choose to specialize in a specific area of addiction science, they will be exposed many diverse applications to increase appreciation for the complexity of addiction and stimulate creative thinking that cuts across disciplines.
After completing the program, scholars will be eligible for guaranteed interviews, select slots of PhD entry and application fee waivers at USC graduate schools. “Our graduates will be poised to matriculate into PhD programs at USC and other leading universities that excel in addiction research,” said Davies, who is also director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at the USC School of Pharmacy.
Strengthening the field of addiction science
Substance use disorders and overdose deaths have been on the rise for years in the United States, but they surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among communities of color, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. At the same time, access to treatment remains elusive for millions of Americans who want recovery, and stigma prevents others from seeking the help they need.
This program is the first of its kind for undergraduates to leverage across so many different schools within USC to address the growing addiction crisis through a universal science model, said Adam M. Leventhal, professor of preventive medicine and psychology at Keck School of Medicine and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, and founding director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science.
“Addiction science and the problem of addiction touch across just about every possible field in academics,” Leventhal said. “It’s difficult to think of a field where it’s not relevant.”
Various members of the 80+ faculty at the USC Institute for Addiction Science will be tapped throughout the course of the Rising STARS program to educate and train students on the particular aspects of addiction that they specialize in, and students will be able to choose from a selection of laboratories and research groups to rotate through depending on their interests. The program is designed so that students can exit with the skills to address the addiction crisis in a variety of fields, whether that means they are working on molecular biology related to addiction, pursuing public health policy aimed to curb access to addictive substances, or studying the sociological and cultural aspects influencing addiction.
“It doesn’t matter what discipline you come from, whether it’s medicine, psychology, sociology, pharmacy, public policy, public health, the list goes on and on,” said Leventhal. “We believe that these different disciplines should be integrated with each other in an all hands on deck approach to solving the addiction crisis. To do this, you need to be a place that empowers academics to break down siloes that separate disciplines. There’s no better place than USC to make that happen.”