BIGGER Cohort Presentations Conclude Program's Initial Pilot Grant Period

The 2023-2024 Duke CTSI Bridging the Gap to Enhance Clinical Research (BIGGER) Program cohort gave final presentations and graduated in December 2023. This concluded the six-year NIH NHLBI R25 training grant inaugural period.

The six-month program, directed by Drs. Vivian Chu and Kevin Thomas, provided a top-quality research experience for scholars in their gap year, defined as the period after college graduation and prior to applying for graduate/professional school.

Collaborations with the REACH Equity Summer Undergraduate Program (RESURP) and the Summer Training in Academic Research (STAR)
Program at the Duke Clinical Research Institute provided essential didactics ranging from research writing and publication to gaining deep understanding of a range of health equity issues and potential solutions.

The didactic curriculum was coupled with team science pairings, faculty mentorship, clinical shadowing experiences, exposure to community engagement, and a final research project and presentation. Scholars also attended a career development and networking panel, a financial aid and planning consultation, MCAT training, and several of Taryn Cavanaugh Faulk’s professional development workshops.

2023-2024 Research projects included:

  • Jaye Bullock & Alisa Casey presented 'Refining the Coping with Asthma through Life Management (CALM) intervention for Black Adults'
    Mentor: Dr. Isaretta Riley
  • Jayla Shoffner and Shivangi Jha presented "The Effect of Health literacy on Pre-operative and Post-operative outcomes for Atrial Fibrillation Ablation”
    Mentor: Dr. Zak Loring
  • Chinemerem “Blossom” Edoh and Beatrice Gar presented “Systematic Review of Diuretic Therapy”
    Mentor: Dr. L. Kristin Newby

Most BIGGER scholars came to the program from outside of Durham and hailed from a variety of undergraduate institutions as far afield as California, New York, and Florida. The majority came to us via recruiting partners at East Carolina University, North Carolina A&T University, North Carolina Central University, and the University of North Carolina.

Alongside students in the Duke RESURP Program, BIGGER participants enjoyed a medical van tour of Durham led by Kenisha Bethea and Dr. Nadine Barrett. BIGGER scholars participated in a number of other activities that familiarized them with public health topics across the Bull City. They met with staff and directors from El Vinculo Hispano and Student Action with Farmworkers to discuss barriers to healthcare access within the communities that those organizations serve.

Scholars joined walking tours including:


  • Dr. Ellen Raimond’s critical analysis tour of the Nasher Art Museum permanent collection. Raimond customizes her tour specifically for medical professionals and health sciences students.
  • Kati Henderson’s Queer Ecologies tour of Sarah P. Duke Gardens where scholars discussed applications for health outcomes and treatment plans for members of the LGBTQIA community. This was done in tandem with a lecture given by Dr. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Duke Office for Institutional Equity.
  • Aya Shabu’s Whistle Stop Social History Walking Tour of Durham’s Hayti community. Shabu seeks students to help her develop a Health Equity Walking Tour of Hayti and East Durham.

Scholars also enjoyed touring the Duke Lemur Center and later learning about the CTSI-NCCU ethno-drama partnership.

Presently, 89 percent of the 35 total BIGGER Program participants have pursued graduate study and/or worked in clinical research fields. Thirteen BIGGER graduates are currently in medical school, and our six most recent graduates are applying to Duke medical school, the Duke MBS program, and graduate programs in Genetics.

“I view my time spent in the BIGGER program as a pivotal and defining period of my professional development," said Chiagoziem Ogbonna, member of the 2019 BIGGER cohort. "It was the first time I received direct mentorship from a physician. The amount of autonomy I was given to explore my research question was challenging and as a result I feel as though I grew as an aspiring physician scientist and learned valuable skills throughout the process that have helped me succeed in medical school.”

Drs. Chu and Thomas are currently developing a renewal grant for an intensive graduate-level summer experience in clinical research for rising undergraduate juniors and seniors. The program will utilize the curriculum, structure, and evaluation data from the BIGGER inaugural period.