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NIGMS Holds Diversity Workshop

By Susan Athey

NIGMS recently held a workshop that brought together scientists and educators from across the country to meet with NIH staff to exchange information and discuss strategies for the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students in biomedical research careers.

The workshop, "Achieving Scientific Excellence Through Diversity," included administrative officials from institutions with funded NIGMS predoctoral training grants, the program directors of these grants, minority students and staff from NIH and philanthropic foundations. Almost all of the 75 institutions that have NIGMS predoctoral training grants were represented.

The workshop, chaired by Dr. Richard I. Morimoto of Northwestern University, included a keynote address by Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He challenged participants to raise their expectations and examine their approaches for encouraging minority students to pursue research careers. He described the highly successful strategies of the Meyerhoff program at UMBC, which has convinced large numbers of minority undergraduate students to complete majors in science and pursue graduate education. Hrabowski emphasized that a combination of pragmatic approaches with a "fire in the belly" for research is the key to success.

Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, NIH acting director, welcomed the workshop participants and exhorted them to "return to your institutions with fresh ideas, strong expectations, and a renewed determination to create a community of scientists that truly reflects the full talent of this nation."

The concluding address, "Learning from the Past to Plot a Future," was delivered by Dr. David R. Burgess, a biology professor at Boston College and former president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. He noted that nationally, only 3 percent of Ph.D.s in biomedical science graduate programs are from underrepresented minority groups, despite a large investment on the part of NIH and private organizations.

Meeting organizer Dr. Marion Zatz of NIGMS said the meeting "reflected the energy and commitment of our grantees to be more successful in recruiting and training underrepresented minority students. There was a sense of optimism that NIGMS training programs can learn from each other's successes and failures, and move beyond frustration to new strategies at their institutions.

"But there is a limit to what NIH can do," Zatz added, noting that "ultimately, individual and institutional commitment is what it will take to be successful."

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