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NIGMS Minority Program Participant Becomes University President

By Susan Athey

Firsts are definitely cause for celebration — first birthday, first job, first home. At NIGMS, there's another "first" to observe — for the first time, a former participant in one of the institute's minority programs has become a university president.

Dr. LaVerne Ragster, who participated in NIGMS' Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program as a graduate student at San Diego State University, was inaugurated president of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in March.

Ragster's inauguration capped a week-long celebration at UVI that included receptions for students, alumni, faculty and staff; displays of Virgin Islands artwork; a public forum; and a faculty colloquium. In her inaugural address, Ragster stressed the importance of partnerships and their role in developing UVI's academic and research programs.

Dr. LaVerne Ragster delivers her inaugural address to a crowd of students, alumni, faculty and staff. Thousands more throughout the Virgin Islands watched the inauguration live on public television.

"Every success story at UVI involves people working together and being positive about what can be gained…through our academic programs, research, and community outreach efforts," Ragster said.

MBRS has been a staple of UVI's research program since Ragster directed the first grant there in 1985. The program assists underrepresented minority students pursuing biomedical science careers by providing them with research opportunities and mentors. The program also supports faculty research and helps institutions strengthen their biomedical research capacities.

A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Ragster started her college education at the University of Miami, where she earned a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry in 1973. She went on to earn a master's degree in biology at San Diego State University in 1975 and a Ph.D. in biology at the University of California, San Diego, in 1980. She then joined the teaching faculty at UVI, where she rose to the rank of professor of marine biology and chair of the division of science and mathematics. Her most recent post before her selection as president was that of senior vice president and provost.

"Dr. Ragster is a great success story for the MBRS program," said Dr. Clifton Poodry, director of the NIGMS Division of Minority Opportunities in Research, home of the MBRS program.

"She is a notable example of how NIGMS's programs to increase the number and capabilities of minority biomedical scientists are bearing fruit. Like so many former program participants, Dr. Ragster is fulfilling her own promise while continuing to serve the minority community."

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