The Institute for Research on Women and Gender received a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop and implement an academic and research mentoring program for undergraduate students across the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.

The Student Opportunities for AIDS/HIV Research Program, scheduled to launch in September, is a two-year experience to prepare juniors and seniors for graduate education and eventual careers in behavioral and social science research involving HIV/AIDS, with a focus on sexual and gender minority communities.

“Sexual and gender minority people and communities account for the vast majority of HIV cases in the United States, with Black and Latinx people disproportionately affected,” said Gary Harper, professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health.

“Unfortunately, these communities also experience a host of negative societal factors, so it’s crucial that the next generation of HIV behavioral and social science researchers have cutting-edge knowledge of the complex factors that influence HIV prevention and care within sexual and gender minority communities.”

Harper and IRWG Executive Director Anna Kirkland are leading the new program. Based in IRWG, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Research, SOAR is a collaboration among the schools of Public Health, Nursing and Social Work, as well as LSA.

SOAR students will complete two yearlong HIV-focused research experiences, a summer research experience and two seminar courses, and will receive holistic support and mentoring.

“There is nothing else in the country like this program, and we’re thrilled to launch it from our feminist research institute,” said Kirkland, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and professor of women’s and gender studies, sociology and political science in LSA, and of health management and policy in SPH.

“Engaging in original research projects can be a transformational part of an undergraduate education at U-M,” LSA Dean Anne Curzan said. “SOAR is a remarkable opportunity for undergraduates pursuing both liberal arts and other degrees across campus.”

Faculty across various disciplines will mentor students in global and local research projects ranging from innovative approaches to HIV prevention and treatment, to resilience and empowerment among populations at risk for or living with HIV.

“More than 38 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS, and so in order for us to address this public health crisis, we have to build a stronger pipeline of researchers who can explore this important topic from a behavioral and social sciences lens,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research and the William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine.

“The new SOAR program can help us achieve that, and concurrently, it provides our students with a tremendous opportunity to augment their education and really make an impact.”

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