The University of Michigan will launch a program this coming fall to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the biomedical and health sciences using a $15.6 million NIH FIRST Grant, in addition to a $63.7 million investment from the University. The Michigan Program for Advancing Cultural Transformation will hire 30 assistant professors from underrepresented backgrounds across 11 schools and colleges at the University.
Robert Sellers, Charles D. Moody Collegiate professor of psychology, and Reshma Jagsi, adjunct medical professor of radiation oncology, will serve as principal investigators to the NIH grant and co-coordinate the program. The University’s $63.7 million investment will be used to cover monetary costs for the 30 new hires.
To recruit and onboard the new faculty members, M-PACT will utilize evidence-based hiring practices developed by ADVANCE, a program created by the provost’s office focused on diversifying faculty across the University. The program’s Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence committee will conduct the recruiting and hiring processes.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Sellers said in addition to hiring a diverse cohort of assistant professors, the program will also work to support the new hires in working toward their personal and professional goals.
“We’re hiring new assistant professors (and) we’re going to pair them with senior mentors who have been committed to diversity, equity and inclusion for a very long time to help them effectively (be) change agents while at the same time being effective in their scholarly work as well,” Sellers said.
Sellers said after hiring and training the 30 new faculty, the program leads will work to evaluate how the environment of their school or college may have changed, and then share these findings across the University and beyond.
“(We want) to work with the schools and colleges to change their environment in a way that makes it more supportive of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Sellers said. “(The goal of M-PACT) is to take what we have learned and to evaluate it, and then to disseminate those findings to other schools and colleges within the University of Michigan as well as the broader field of biomedical and health sciences.”
The new assistant professors and their mentors will be divided into three clusters of research focuses led by the current senior faculty members: the basic biomedical cluster, the clinical-translational cluster and the social and behavioral cluster.
Ruma Banerjee, Vincent Massey Collegiate professor of biological chemistry, will lead the basic biomedical cluster. Banerjee said she was contacted by Sellers and asked to join M-PACT because of her involvement in a similar National Institutes of Health program: the Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers Program.
“Working in this space is really different from the type of mentoring that we typically do as scholars in our own fields,” Banerjee said. “So what we proposed to do was also offer culturally-aware mentoring to faculty who are in all three clusters as sponsor mentors.”
Rogerio Meireles Pinto, associate dean for research and innovation for the School of Social Work, will co-lead the social and behavioral cluster alongside Kenneth Resnicow, Irwin Rosenstock professor of health behavior and health education. Pinto said that his identities as a Queer person, an immigrant and someone of Latinx descent have inspired his goal of diversifying U-M faculty, which he believes will improve the quality and depth of research the University produces.
“My inspiration to get involved in all this comes from my multiple social identities as a Queer person, as a person who’s nonconforming, as an immigrant with an accent and a Latinx identity,” Pinto said. “(With) heavy representation (of) faculty (from) historically marginalized communities we produce better research questions that require more innovative research questions.”
Medical School student Mana Yacim, president of the U-M Black Medical Association, told The Daily in an email that she believes targeted efforts to increase the diversity of biomedical and health sciences faculty can help address disparities in access to higher education and research.
“Increasing diversity among the professors at (the University) can lead to a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds in academia,” Yacim wrote. “The biomedical and health sciences fields have historically been underrepresented by certain groups. DEI efforts such as (M-PACT) can help address these disparities by providing role models and mentors who can inspire and support students from underrepresented backgrounds, encouraging their participation and success in these fields.”
According to Sellers, as the largest school out of the four total in its NIH FIRST grant cohort, the University had to commit the most funding to its implementation.
“It’s my understanding that we were by far the largest, which as a result, required the University to commit more money to cover the new faculty, both the cost of salaries but also startup (fees),” Sellers said. “Faculty in the biomedical sciences often have startup costs over a million dollars.”
Sellers said applying for the NIH grant was viewed as a part of the University’s larger efforts toward DEI.
“The commitment is consistent with … the University’s belief that diversity, equity and inclusion are inextricably tied to our goal of academic excellence,” Sellers said. “When we first went for the grant, I was the chief diversity officer at the University, and this was seen as an effort that would also lead us into DEI 2.0.”
The $79 million investment arrives as the national landscape around diversity in higher education is shifting following the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ending the use of affirmative actions in college admissions.
“We have this investment in this work on the heels of the Supreme Court decision that came yesterday,” Banerjee said. “It is important that we have diverse perspectives and intellect engaging in work at the University … The moment could not be more poignant in my view, given University of Michigan’s historic investment in this work.”
Daily Staff Reporter Joanna Chait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.