CWRU forms partnership to increase number of minority STEM researchers

Case Western Reserve University is the new academic home of a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of underrepresented minority scientists and researchers at the doctoral level in science, engineering and medicine.

The university forged this relationship with the Association of Underrepresented Minority Fellows (AUMF) earlier this year as an outgrowth of work to develop a Diversity Strategic Action Plan for the campus. Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Marilyn S. Mobley, PhD, learned of the opportunity through the consulting firm she engaged for plan development, Criticality Management Consulting.

“This exciting new partnership … provides tangible evidence of our commitment to align our efforts with the goals articulated in the plan,” Mobley said. “Serving as the AUMF host institution gives visibility to the university’s efforts to recruit more minorities to the sciences and involves the university in the critical work of developing and sustaining a pipeline of biomedical scientists and researchers.”

The AUMF includes recipients of fellowships from the UNCF (United Negro College Fund)/Merck Science Initiative. Launched in 1995, the UNCF/Merck program provides funding awards to nearly 40 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral science and engineering scholars each year. At a 2007 fellows reunion, two of the award recipients founded the AUMF to provide a chance for their peers to provide support to one another—and also engage more underrepresented minorities in the field.

Case Western Reserve’s Emmitt Jolly, PhD, an assistant professor of biology who received UNCF/Merck Fellowships for both his graduate and postdoctoral studies, is one of two co-founders of the AUMF and its current president.

“The missions of both CWRU and AUMF are a natural fit and our partnership shows a commitment of CWRU to be a national leader in issues related to science and to diversity,” Jolly said. “CWRU is showing its dedication to real change in an ever-changing world.”

The National Science Foundation this year reported that members of underrepresented minority groups totaled 11 percent of all U.S. scholars earning science and engineering doctorates in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available. African-American graduates totaled 5 percent of that number.

Case Western Reserve identified diversity as a core value in its 2008 strategic plan, Forward Thinking. President Barbara R. Snyder created the position Mobley now holds as a result of that document, and Mobley reports annually to both the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate regarding the progress her office has made working collaboratively with each school and unit.

As the AUMF’s inaugural host institution for the next three years, the university has committed to work with the association to advance both organizations’ efforts to grow the number of minority students and faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields at Case Western Reserve and at universities around the country.

School of Medicine Associate Dean of Graduate Education Alison Hall, PhD, will serve as the university coordinator for the partnership. Hall, also a professor of neurosciences, noted that the association will highlight the university to its members, and also help attract promising speakers to campus to speak to issues central to enhancing diversity in STEM fields. The university plans to host a major biomedical symposium in the spring of 2014 through its role as AUMF partner.

Hall said the campus will strive to meet AUMF’s goals for all of its member institutions. These include:

  • Providing a written plan to help build and sustain the underrepresented minority biomedical science and STEM research PhD pipelines, and
  • Accepting AUMF’s Five by Five Challenge to enroll or place at least five African-American trainees in biomedical science PhD and/or MD/PhD programs.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Case Western Reserve to showcase its diversity programs,” Hall said. “We are missing out on a lot of diverse voices and viewpoints. We need these inclusive voices as we work to meet [future] challenges.”