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BNRI: A Summer Neuroscience Internship Program for BIPOC+ Students

The BIPOC+ Neuroscience Next-Generation Research Initiative (BNRI) is a summer research program that provided hands-on research experiences, mentorship, and community service opportunities to 10 interns.

BNRI: A Summer Neuroscience Internship Program for BIPOC+ Students

Ka-Ho Wong
Pictured: Ka-Ho Wong

BIPOC+ (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color+) communities make up over 40% of the total U.S. population. However, despite this significant presence, only a small fraction of BIPOC+ individuals are represented in the fields of neurology and neuroscience. According to a study based on Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) data from 2011 to 2019, only 9.0% of neurology residents identified as BIPOC+.

Ka-Ho Wong, a Research Associate with our Neuroimmunology Division, has experienced this reality firsthand. He often works with undergraduate students, and he noticed that it can be particularly difficult for students from underrepresented ethnic minorities to navigate the health care system.

With this in mind, Wong teamed up with the Department of Neurology’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Leadership (IDEAL) committee to launch a summer research program for BIPOC+ high school students. Called the BIPOC+ Neuroscience Next-Generation Research Initiative (BNRI), it lasted 10 weeks, pairing 10 interns with 10 neurologists/neuroscientists. These students shadowed their mentors, gaining access to real-life laboratories and research. Additionally, they attended weekly lectures from various neurology professionals, gaining insights into career paths and disease-specific areas.

BNRI also placed a unique emphasis on giving back—all students were required to spend at least four to eight hours on community services. Many went back to their own racial communities and passed on what they had learned about neuroscience topics like stroke and seizures.

After the conclusion of the program, Wong presented about BNRI and its results at the 2023 American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Conference. For example, before and after the program, the students took a 35-point neurology assessment test. The average score jumped from 11 to 22, signaling a significant increase in general knowledge. You can view the poster here.

Even more importantly, BNRI helped its interns pursue careers in neurology/neuroscience. For instance, Wong fondly remembers receiving a text from a former student who shared that she is now a research assistant in Gregory Krauss, MD’s epilepsy laboratory at Johns Hopkins University—the first freshman to be offered this position. She credited BNRI for helping her achieve this milestone, highlighting how working with Amir Arain, MD, MPH, in the Epilepsy Division here at the University of Utah opened doors for her.

BNRI Interns 2022 in Front of the CNC
Pictured: BNRI interns in front of the Clinical Neurosciences Center in Salt Lake City, Utah

“The best part is watching the students succeed,” Wong says of the program. Eight out of ten participants were high school students at the time they joined the internship, and now they are all undergraduates at universities like the University of Utah, John Hopkins, the University of Southern California, and Georgia Tech. In addition, six continue to do research! One received the University of Utah Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP); one was accepted by the University of Utah Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR); one was accepted by the University of Utah PathMaker Scholars Cancer Research Program; and as mentioned previously, one is a research assistant at Johns Hopkins.

Wong says, “The whole purpose of this was to increase diversity in the science field, and we’ve contributed to that.”

Looking forward, Wong hopes to run the program again with a few key updates. He welcomes support from individuals interested in contributing to the program's success, whether through community service, collaboration, spreading the word, or funding. You can contact him at for more information.