The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) were awarded a five-year, $13.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to enhance efforts at recruiting and training junior faculty from underrepresented groups in biomedical science. The grant comes from the NIH Common Fund’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program, founded in 2021 for the purpose of supporting efforts to hire diverse groups of early-career research faculty.
The funds will hire a group of six faculty members at UMSOM and four at UMBC, each of whom will have cross-campus appointments at both institutions.
“Achieving diversity in early-career faculty has proven to be an ongoing challenge that we believe we can meet with the FIRST program,” said lead principal investigator on the grant, James Kaper, PhD, the James and Carolyn Frenkil Distinguished Dean’s Professor, vice dean for academic affairs, and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UMSOM. “It is designed to foster sustainable culture change and promote inclusive excellence by enabling us to hire a diverse cohort of new faculty and to support faculty development, mentoring, and promotion opportunities.”
The grant aims to build self-reinforcing communities of scientists committed to diversity and inclusive excellence, through the recruitment of early-career faculty who are competitive for assistant professor (or equivalent) positions and have a demonstrated commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence. UMSOM and UMBC will work to determine if these hiring efforts and other evidence-based strategies achieve the goal of accelerating inclusive excellence. This will be measured by clearly defined metrics of institutional culture change, diversity, and inclusion.
"As scientists, Dr. Kaper and I recognize the importance of diversity in maintaining a healthy ecosystem,” said principal investigator William LaCourse, PhD, professor and dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at UMBC. "We recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to a diverse faculty and academic environment. That is why we feel it is crucial to recruit, mentor, and increase access to advancement opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM.”
The new faculty hires will choose to perform research in neuroscience, cancer biology, or microbiology/immunology and infectious disease. These research areas are ones in which the schools have real strength, said Kaper, so mentorship and collaboration should be more easily attainable. The grant also will provide funds for group professional development to help the new hires succeed.
“The dearth of opportunities in STEM for underrepresented scholars, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with disabilities is one of our most critical challenges,” said UMSOM Dean Mark T. Gladwin, MD, who also is the vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor at UMSOM. “This tremendous grant from NIH is a major step in helping to ensure that our faculty composition more accurately reflects the communities we serve, as we work toward our goal of becoming a magnet university for diversity and social justice.”
Sandra Quezada, MD, MS, associate dean for faculty diversity and inclusion and associate professor of medicine at UMSOM said, “This is an exciting opportunity to strengthen the diversity of our faculty, and to enrich the depth and breadth of mentorship programming for all new and existing diverse faculty at UMSOM.”
The NIH FIRST grant builds off UMBC’s highly esteemed Meyerhoff Scholars Program, started more than 30 years ago, which has led to UMBC being the leading college for developing underrepresented STEM recruits at the undergraduate level. UMBC is the nation’s No. 1 producer of Black undergraduates who go on to complete a PhD in the natural sciences or engineering and No. 1 for Black undergraduates who complete an MD/PhD. At the same time that UMBC excels in educating undergraduates, it also is classified as one of only 146 R1 (“very high research activity”) institutions in the nation.
UMBC’s efforts to promote faculty diversity in STEM include the PROMISE Academy and ADVANCE, which have increased women faculty in STEM by 70 percent at UMBC since 2003. The College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences’ Pre-Professoriate Fellowship offers incoming faculty two-year appointments as research assistant professors, with structured mentoring and other scaffolds for success. Faculty who came to UMBC through this program in biological sciences, physics, and chemistry have already been converted to tenure-track assistant professors.
UMSOM also is an epicenter of a STEM-health science pipeline with the UMB CURE Scholars Program for middle and high school students, several internship and summer research programs for college students, and multiple postgraduate training programs that give underrepresented scholars direct experience in a laboratory setting.
“Between the two schools, we have a long track record of diverse training opportunities and underrepresented minorities in leadership. However, there is a gap at the faculty level, in that the makeup does not represent the minority percentage found in the general population,” Kaper said. “This grant will address those gaps to ensure our university is a more equitable one.”
The project is funded by the NIH Common Fund (U54CA272205).