March 2011

Focus on the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliate Network

A look at the growth and development of the UAN since its inception in 2000.

The Undergraduate Affiliate Network was initiated by J. Ellis Bell in 2000.

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Undergraduate Affiliate Network was initiated by J. Ellis Bell in 2000 to “create a community of faculty involved with both research and undergraduate education, to promote the involvement of undergraduates in research and outreach activities and student centered learning and to provide a connection between students and their future careers.”

The management of the UAN initially was included as part of the Educational and Professional Development Committee activities in 2002, and the first regional directors were appointed in 2003. That same year, the UAN was integrated into the Experimental Biology meeting concomitant with the education sessions being moved into separate satellite sessions. The UAN has grown during the past several years and has evolved a well-defined organizational structure that includes a chair, regional directors, numerous local chapters and, more recently, various awards directed at biochemistry and molecular biology undergraduate education, research, and K-12 outreach.

Organizational structure

The UAN started with six distinct regions (Northeast, North-Central, Northwest, Southeast, South-Central, and Southwest), and directors were appointed to serve as coordinators and recruiters for each region. Bell, who was the first UAN chairman, and these initial regional directors were instrumental in defining the core mission of the UAN.

Joseph Provost served as the second UAN chairman from 2006 to 2009, and during his tenure a number of important initiatives were designed and implemented. As Provost recalls, “The early years were devoted to defining the UAN role within the EPD and to understanding how to further the goals of the ASBMB to best serve primarily-undergraduate institutions’ faculty and undergraduates. The initial idea was to promote interactions at all levels of the education system and create a community of educators and students. This was an exciting opportunity to have a real impact on the flow of students into science, in particular biochemistry and molecular biology.” The current chairwoman of the UAN is Neena Grover of Colorado College.

Some of the UAN’s initial goals were to establish best practices and standard protocols, finish developing the network’s website and grow the activities of the UAN. Provost remembers, “We worked together to do all of this and create a separate committee which is still a part of the EPD but meets separately twice a year and has its own identity for organization. We were able to propose and get approved a budget, which was instrumental to mature the UAN.”

Growth and development

In 2009, Weiyi Zhao was added to the ASBMB staff to oversee and develop numerous UAN directives. Zhao’s addition was instrumental in moving the UAN mission forward. In addition to her other duties within the ASBMB education department, she serves as a conduit for the UAN within the ASBMB. Her assistance has been invaluable, and support from the ASBMB has been crucial to the success of the UAN.
The UAN now has grown to include 55 chapters within the six UAN regions. Currently, UAN regional directors include Ann Aguanno of Marymount Manhattan College  and Quinn Vega of Montclair State University (Northeast), Marilee Benore of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Todd Weaver of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (North-Central), Joseph Provost of Minnesota State University Moorhead (Northwest), David Bevan of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Takita Sumter of Winthrop University (Southeast), Benjamin Caldwell of Missouri Western State University (South-Central), and Neena Grover of Colorado College and Tester Baird of San Francisco State University (Southwest).

The UAN also publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter, Enzymatic, that covers UAN-related news as well as undergraduate biochemistry and molecular biology education. A regular feature of Enzymatic is a series of articles called “JBC in the Classroom,” in which contributors write about the use of primary literature from the Journal of Biological Chemistry to teach biochemistry or molecular biology.  The editor of Enzymatic is Marilee Benore, and Weiyi Zhao serves as managing editor. 

Joseph Provost served as the second UAN chairman from 2006 to 2009.

UAN awards

Beyond the annual undergraduate poster competition, the UAN has implemented a number of additional competitive awards, which are supported by chapter dues.

Undergraduate research

The UAN has a particular interest in increasing undergraduate student participation in biochemistry and molecular biology research to stimulate interest in the life sciences. The Undergraduate Research Award supports undergraduate students conducting summer research by providing $1,000 to offset the costs for supplies. This past summer, eight students were presented with these awards to conduct summer research. The UAN also has established a travel award to offset one student’s travel expenses for the annual meeting. Each regional chapter can nominate one student for this award.

Individual UAN chapters also may apply for a Regional Meeting Award to fund a small biochemistry and molecular biology meeting focused on the presentation of data and results by faculty members and their students. As part of the award, each region may give up to four additional $400 travel awards for students to present their findings at the ASBMB annual meeting. The UAN feels strongly that an immersive undergraduate research experience includes the presentation of data and results.

The UAN also has been instrumental in promoting incorporation of undergraduates and faculty from primarily-undergraduate institutions into the main platform scientific sessions at the annual meeting. In the past two years, eight undergraduates and 21 primarily-undergraduate institution faculty members have given such presentations.

Finally, the UAN administers the ASBMB Undergraduate Honor Society to acknowledge outstanding students pursuing a degree in biochemistry or molecular biology. Faculty mentors nominate junior and senior students each year for inclusion in the honor society based on their achievement in scholarly research, academic excellence and biochemistry and molecular biology-centered outreach activities.

Research-based education

The UAN has strengthened the connection of biochemistry and molecular biology faculty with high school students and science educators through its 7 – 12 Teacher Summer Research Award. This competitive award partners a BMB faculty member and undergraduate student with a high school science educator and a high school student to conduct hypothesis-driven research. These successful partnerships have provided both stipends ($4,000 for the teacher and $1,000 for the student) and unique opportunities for three high school teachers and three students during the past two years.

K – 12 outreach

Service to the K – 12 science community has become another focal point for the UAN. In fact, a number of awards have been earmarked for this purpose, including the Outreach Support Award, the Science Fair Award, the High School Research Award and the High School Scholarship Award. The outreach award provides funds to encourage local UAN chapters to promote science, technology, engineering and math educational activities. The science fair awards can be used by local UAN chapters to recognize excellence in BMB research by high school students. Each chapter can apply for up to five $100 awards. The final two awards have been developed to recognize and support BMB research conducted by high school students and progress toward a BMB baccalaureate degree. The High School Research Award provides $200 for a student to conduct research, while the High School Scholarship Award supplies $1,000 toward the pursuit of a BMB baccalaureate degree.

The current chairwoman of the UAN is Neena Grover of Colorado College.


During the past eight years, the organizational structure of the UAN has been formalized, and its goal of creating a community of faculty members engaged in research and education aimed at increasing participation of undergraduates has come to fruition. As Bell states, “Thanks to the hard work over the years of the many people involved with the UAN it has certainly gone a long way toward fulfilling the original hopes for it. As ASBMB rolls out its accreditation plan over the next year or two, the UAN will continue to play a critical role in advancing student-centered education in the molecular life sciences and, through its widespread faculty and student network, provide leadership in the development of young faculty members committed to the integration of research into every aspect of undergraduate education in biochemistry and molecular biology.”

Todd Weaver ( is a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.


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