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Chemistry Department Aims to Improve Diversity with $2.7 Million Grant

The Department of Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences has received two grants, totaling more than $2.5 million, to help recruit, retain and support graduate and post-doctoral students from groups that are under-represented in the sciences. 

The grants, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, come thanks to the efforts of Jenny Brodbelt, the new chair of the chemistry department. 

“There aren’t enough women and minorities in the sciences at any level, but the problem becomes increasingly acute as you move into graduate school and beyond,” said Brodbelt, the William H. Wade Endowed Professor in Chemistry. “The College is committed to improving diversity at all levels, and these grants will be an enormous help toward that goal.”

The larger of the two grants is the $2.7 million, five-year Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) grant from the NIH, which was one of only two such grants awarded nationally.

The money will go toward a new traineeship, mentorship and leadership program, called the Collaborative Opportunities for Research Educators (CORE) program, designed by the department to help post-doctoral students in chemistry and related biomedical disciplines, and in particular women and students from under-represented ethnic groups.

The program will also build ties between the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin and nearby St. Edward’s University and Southwestern University, both of which serve a substantial number of minority undergraduates.

“Our graduate and post-doctoral students get exceptional training in doing laboratory science, but too often they’re left to their own devices when it comes to many of the other aspects of building a successful scientific career over the long term,” said Brodbelt. “You have to know how to manage a lab, how to supervise students, how to apply for grants, how to cultivate connections to other scientists. Women and students of color can end up particularly isolated in some of these areas. That’s what the program is designed to remedy.”

The post-docs will focus on NIH-supported research projects during the first part of the program, then transition to training in research-oriented undergraduate education during the subsequent year.

The educational component of the program, which has a target of 50 percent minority and 50 percent female participation, is modeled on the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), a pioneering program in the College of Natural Sciences that offers first-year undergraduates the opportunity to advance academically while doing cutting-edge, original, publishable research.

Working under the mentorship of faculty at UT-Austin, St. Edward’s and Southwestern and with specialized training by Research Educators in the FRI, the CORE scholars will get experience managing a lab, supervising young researchers, and thinking long term about the arc of major research projects that involve many people and years. They’ll also have the opportunity to involve FRI students in their own research projects.

Students selected for the program will benefit from a variety of professional development activities that include a CORE boot camp, a Journey to Academia workshop, a grant writing workshop, a series on lab management, a spring symposium to facilitate networking opportunities, and lecture videotaping and critique sessions.

The second grant is a four-year, $60,000 award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which will go to support the Program of Exemplary Mentoring in the department. The four main planks of the program are: a professional development course for all graduate students, more targeted professional development efforts for graduate students of color, travel grants to improve recruitment of minority graduate students to the department, and a symposium and seminar series dedicated to linking together past, present, and future scientists from underrepresented groups.

“Increasing diversity in the sciences, in both academia and industry, is a major goal of the College of Natural Sciences’ new five-year strategic plan,” said Linda Hicke, dean of the college. “Grants such as these will be the key to our success in that effort.”  

Dan was publications editor for the College of Natural Sciences from 2006-2013. He is now communications manager for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

Comments

  • Guest
    Lucia and Jack Gilbert Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    Congratulations, Jenny, and to all the others who may have contributed to obtaining these highly significant and competitive awards. The funds available from these awards will clearly allow an important investment in highly important initiatives that are sorely needed not only at UT, but nationally as well. Kudos to the department but also for the college. We know that the efforts will be successful! All best, Lucia and Jack Gilbert

  • Guest
    Sandra Bishnoi Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    So happy to see the UT Chemistry Department taking a leading role in this area. Congrats, Dr. Brodbelt!

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