Driving Diversity in Science
New DEI office co-establishes scholars program with United Negro College Fund to support next generation scientists
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The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) recently unveiled its Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which will serve as the central hub for the plethora of DEI efforts being championed by researchers and clinicians across the HICCC.
From increasing representation at the highest levels of medicine and academia, to promoting diversity across clinical trials, this new office aims to drive diversity at the HICCC and make strategic recommendations to position the cancer center as a leader in this space. The new office will be co-directed by Kevin Gardner, MD, PhD, senior vice chair of the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Jennifer Woo Baidal, MD, director of pediatric weight management in the division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).
The DEI office’s inaugural effort has been the Ernest E. (E.E.) Just Biomedical Scholars Program at Columbia University, which was launched this past summer with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The aim of this program is to provide college and graduate students at historically Black colleges, universities, and medical schools with unique research opportunities and access to mentors at CUIMC and the HICCC. In turn, faculty at CUIMC will have access to a diverse and talented cohort of students to mentor and have contribute to their research. There is a great need for the E.E. Just Scholars Program, and others like it, to address the underrepresentation of BIPOC researchers in tenure-track positions at top institutions. The inaugural cohort was comprised of students from the Morehouse School of Medicine, and the value the program has brought them and the HICCC has been immense.
Erron Collins
Sediqua Bufford
Kevin Gardner, MD, PhD
Chad Womack, PhD
Anil Rustgi, MD
The Ernest E. Just Scholars Program is an opportunity to build mutually beneficial relationships. The most innovative research comes when scientists from all backgrounds are represented and have a voice.
—Anil K. Rustgi, MD
Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Center Director, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center
As a life scientist, I know first-hand how important it is for students to have these wonderful opportunities where they can participate in cutting-edge research activities in laboratories led by top-notch scientists at places like Columbia University. Working with investigators like Dr. Kevin Gardner, for instance, provides a great opportunity for our students to gain critical research skills and abilities that will help them matriculate through their respective academic programs, subsequent graduate studies and, ultimately, careers in the life sciences.
—Chad Womack, PhD
Senior Director of STEM Programs and Initiatives at the UNCF Founder, Ernest E. Just Life Science Society
It was an honor to be an E.E. Just Scholar under the leadership of Dr. Kevin Gardner. Working with the Gardner lab was a riveting experience that provided clarity to my career aspirations to become a molecular epidemiologist. The program was intellectually enlightening and broadened my viewpoints in multiple disciplines of medical science.
—Sediqua Bufford
E.E. Just Scholar Master of Science in Biotechnology, Morehouse School of Medicine Class of ’21
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the E.E. Just Scholars program at Columbia University and develop a long-term mentorship from a notable physician and researcher in Erica Fallon, MD. I was able to start one of my lifetime goals of finding novel treatment options for Wilms tumor, the same pediatric cancer I once had, which has been a huge driver of my interest in practicing medicine and research. It also provided numerous opportunities to develop research skills that I would not have had access to otherwise.
—Erron Collins
E.E. Just Scholar Doctor of Medicine Candidate, Morehouse School of Medicine Class of ’24
Columbia University is an international powerhouse and leader in science and the humanities in one of the most diverse cities in the world. However, this level of diversity is not reflected within its walls. The E.E. Just Scholars program will cultivate a new generation of scientists, educators, and scholars that will embrace diversity and equity in the practice, delivery, and teaching of the biomedical and behavioral sciences.
—Kevin Gardner, MD, PhD
Senior Vice Chair of Pathology and Cell Biology, Columbia Vagelos Physicians and Surgeons Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, HICCC
Sediqua Bufford
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