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Undergraduate Student Training in Alzheimer's Research (USTAR)

USTAR Research

Undergraduate Student Training in Alzheimer’s Research (USTAR) is an educational program that will provide undergraduate students with mentored didactic, clinical, and research experiences to stimulate interest in pursuing research careers related to Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). Nearly 6 million Americans have ADRD, and Black/African Americans have higher rates than Whites. This racialized disparity is due to greater exposure to social and medical risks. USTAR’s goal is to train the next generation of ADRD scientists to conduct research that reduces racialized health disparities in ADRD.

USTAR is a research training program for undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, including Black/African Americans, who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in an MSTEM field (medicine, science, technology, engineering, mathematics). This program is funded by the National Institute on Aging.

USTAR brings together ADRD experts from Thomas Jefferson University (Jefferson) and Delaware State University (DSU), a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). The faculty’s work represents the full spectrum of ADRD research and care, and will provide students with a broad understanding of ADRD at molecular, cellular, clinical, pathological, and population levels, with an appreciation of how these processes intersect with social health determinants.

This is a two-year program. There will be two 8-week summer sessions (Summer 2024 and Summer 2025) that will take place at Thomas Jefferson University and DSU. There will be monthly virtual sessions during the academic years (September 2024 through March 2025, and September 2025 through March 2026).


Program Details

  • Students will receive stipends of $5,000 per summer for each of the two summer sessions, and $100 per month for each of the two academic years.
  • There will be an informational webinar to give prospective applicants an opportunity to meet program faculty and ask questions about the program. Applicants are not required to attend the webinar.
  • The program consists of two consecutive Summer sessions (2024: 5/28/24 through 7/19/24 and 2025: TBD). Summer sessions will take place in-person Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Jefferson - Center City Campus and Delaware State University. Three days per week will be at Jefferson; one day per week will be at DSU; and one day per week will be virtual.
  • The program will pay for round trip travel between Jefferson and DSU during summer sessions.
  • There will be bimonthly virtual meetings during 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 academic years.
  • The program will provide housing on Jefferson - Center City Campus.
  • With approval from the student’s undergraduate institution, the student may be able to receive course or project (e.g., Capstone) credit for participation in the program.

Please direct all questions and inquiries to Robin Casten, Ph. D.: Robin.Casten [at] jefferson.edu

Key Features

Mentoring: Each student will be paired with a mentor matched to their research interests.

Student Led Research Project: Students will work together to conduct a clinical research study that examines social determinants of health that may impact ADRD. Based on this student-led study, each student will develop an independent mentored research project, and will have the opportunity to present their project at a national conference.

Clinical Shadowing: Students will shadow clinicians as they diagnose and treat patients with ADRD. 

Community Engagement: Students will participate in outreach activities designed to address and prevent ADRD at the community level.

Neuroscience Training: Students will spend one day per week during the summer sessions working on fly and mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases such as ADRD.

Journal Club: Students will participate in state-of-the-art ADRD research discussions during weekly summer Journal Club meetings.

Develop Research Skills: Students will be immersed in Jefferson and DSU faculty’s ongoing bench and clinical research studies so that they can acquire basic skills for both human and animal studies.

Program Leadership

Barry Rovner, MD

Professor, Departments of Neurology - Vickie & Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience, Psychiatry & Human Behavior
Professor, Department of Ophthalmology
Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC)
Division of Cognitive Neurology, Jefferson Health
Thomas Jefferson University

Hakeem Lawal, Ph.D.

Vice Chair, Department of Biological Sciences
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Delaware State University (DSU)

Susan Parks, MD

Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, SKMC
Director, Division of Geriatric Medicine & Palliative Care, Jefferson Health
Thomas Jefferson University


Faculty names are linked to their faculty profile at their respective academic institutions where available.
* Academic Mentors  |. ^ Research Mentors

Program Faculty & Mentors

Faculty names are linked to their faculty profile at their respective academic institutions where available.
* Academic Mentors  |  ^ Research Mentors


Robin Casten, Ph.D. * ^
Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior, SKMC
Thomas Jefferson University

Bernard Lopez, MD, MS, CPE, FACEP, FAAEM *
Professor, Executive Vice Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, SKMC
Senior Associate Dean, Diversity & Community Engagement, SKMC
Associate Provost, Diversity & Inclusion
Thomas Jefferson University

Erin Perchiniak, Ph.D. *
Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Delaware State University

Brooke Salzman, MD *
Professor, Department of Family & Community Medicine, SKMC
Division of Geriatric Medicine &Palliative Care, Jefferson Health
Associate Provost & Co-Director, Jefferson Center for Interprofessional Education and Practice
Thomas Jefferson University


Tracey Vause Earland, Ph.D., OTR/L *^
Associate Professor, Jefferson Center for Interprofessional Practice & Education
Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, Jefferson College of Rehabiliation Sciences (JCRS)
Co-Director, Jefferson Health Mentors Program
Thomas Jefferson University

Hadijatou Jarra, MD *
Clinical Instructor, Department of Family & Community Medicine, SKMC
Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care, Jefferson Health
Thomas Jefferson University

Ruth Jeminiwa, PharmD *^
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice
Jefferson College of Pharmacy
Thomas Jefferson University

Neva White, DNP, CRNP, CDE *
Executive Director, Frazier Family Coalition for Stroke Education & Prevention, Jefferson Health

Courtney Seebadri-White, MD *
Clinical Assistant Professor
Associate Director, Neurology Clerkship Program
Thomas Jefferson University


Mark Curtis, MD, Ph.D. ^
Professor, Department of Pathology & Genomic Medicine, SKMC
Director, Neuropathology, Jefferson Health
Thomas Jefferson University

Benjamin Leiby, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, & Cancer Biology, SKMC
Director, Division of Biostatistics
Thomas Jefferson University

Joseph Tracy, Ph.D., ABPP (CN) ^
Professor, Department of Neurology, SKMC
Director, Neuropsychology Division, Jefferson Health
Director, Cognitive Neuroscience & Brain Imaging Laboratory
Thomas Jefferson University

Andrew Newberg, MD ^
Professor, Department of Integrative Medicine & Nutritional Sciences;
Department of Radiology, SKMC
Director of Research, Marcus Institute of Integrative Health
Thomas Jefferson University

Kristin Rising, MD ^
Director, Jefferson Center for Connected Care
Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, SKMC; Jefferson College of Population Health, and; Jefferson College of Nursing
Thomas Jefferson University

Michael Gitcho, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Delaware State University

M. Shadidul Islam, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
Delaware State University
DSU College of Agriculture, Science & Technology (cast.desu.edu)

Richard Smeyene, Ph.D.
Chair & Professor, Department of Neuroscience, SKMC
Director, Jefferson Comprehensive Parkinson’s Center - Vickie & Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience, Jefferson Health
Thomas Jefferson University