Columbia and United Negro College Fund Join Forces for Biomedical Research Diversity Initiative

Editor's note:

A version of this article was originally published by CUIMC News on September 27, 2021.

September 28, 2021

The Ernest E. Just Biomedical Research Scholars @ Columbia program will provide college and graduate students at historically Black colleges, universities, and medical schools (HBCUs) with research opportunities and access to mentors at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and CUIMC's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC). The groundbreaking program, created by HICCC and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), will also give faculty at CUIMC access to a diverse and talented cohort of students to mentor, and faculty will collaborate with those students on research projects ranging from epidemiological studies to new ideas for cancer therapy.

“The Ernest E. Just Biomedical Research Scholars Program is an opportunity to build mutually beneficial relationships between researchers at Columbia and HBCUs,” says Anil Rustgi, MD, interim executive vice president and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at CUIMC and director of the HICCC. “The most innovative research comes when scientists from all backgrounds are represented and have a voice.”

The program aims to increase the number of Black researchers in tenure-track positions at Columbia and other top-tier biomedical research institutions in the country by providing a critical link between young scientists in the pipeline at HBCUs and established researchers at Columbia University. Today, Black Americans represent approximately 13% of the U.S. population but less than 2% of tenure-track faculty at top-tier research institutions and only 4% of doctorates in life sciences.

“We are excited about this first-of-its-kind initiative that establishes a link between HBCUs and majority research institutions and centers like Columbia University,” says Chad Womack, PhD, senior director of STEM Initiatives and the founding director of the Ernest E. Just Life Science Initiative at UNCF. “This initiative leverages the phenomenal legacy of Dr. Ernest E. Just, a preeminent Black scientist who blazed a trail for other African Americans pursuing careers in the life sciences. The program with Columbia also represents an effort to address historical inequities and remove barriers that have kept many Black scientists from achieving their highest aspirations in life science research at top-tier research institutions.”

The program began this past summer with 12 students from Morehouse School of Medicine who were paired with a faculty researcher at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Mailman School of Public Health, or School of Nursing depending on the student’s research interests. Students were selected by UNCF and Morehouse School of Medicine and conducted their research with CUIMC faculty remotely in this initial cycle.

“When my medical school told me about the opportunity, I was rightfully excited as it means an opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading experts,” says John Degraft Hanson, an Ernest E. Just Scholar who is a second-year medical student at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Next year the program is expected to expand to students at other HBCU medical schools and undergraduate institutions. Students will work in New York City with their mentors. All students are provided a stipend as part of the program, which is funded jointly by the UNCF Ernest E. Just Life Science Initiative and the HICCC.

Read the full article at CUIMC News.