STEM Education and Training Builds Diversity Among Next Generation of Biomedical Scientists
Posted on by Jon Lorsch, Ph.D., National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” At NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), we believe that educating future and current scientists from diverse backgrounds benefits the entire biomedical research enterprise, changing the world through advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
As the summer winds down and students and educators embark on a new school year, I thought I’d highlight some of our educational resources that complement science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curricula. I’d also like to draw your attention to training programs designed to inspire and support research careers.
STEM Programs and Resources from NIH
The NIGMS Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPAs) are resources that provide opportunities for pre-K-12 students from underserved communities to access STEM educational resources. It lets them aspire to careers in health research.
The SEPA grants in almost every state support innovative, research-based, science education programs, furthering NIGMS’ mission to ensure a strong and diverse research ecosystem. Resources generated through SEPAs are free, mapped to state and national teaching standards for STEM, and rigorously evaluated for effectiveness. These resources include mobile laboratories, health exhibits in museums and science centers, educational resources for students, and professional development for teachers.
One SEPA program at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, West Lafayette, IN, pairs veterinarians from their nationwide “superhero” League of VetaHumanz with local schools or community centers that support underserved students. These professional veterinarians, also from diverse backgrounds, strive to help young students from underrepresented groups envision future careers caring for animals.
Another SEPA program at Baylor University, Waco, TX, is increasing access to chemistry labs for high schoolers with blindness. It uses a robotic reactor with enhanced safety features to eliminate many dangers of synthetic organic chemistry. Students with blindness can control the robot to conduct experiments in a similar fashion to their sighted counterparts. The robot is housed within an airtight, blast-proof glove box, and it can perform common chemistry operations such as weighing and dispensing solid or liquid reagents; delivering solvents; combining reagents with the solvents; and stirring, heating, or cooling the reaction mixtures.
As noted in the 2021 report from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, “equity and inclusion are fundamental prerequisites for making high-quality STEM education accessible to all Americans and will maximize the creative capacity of tomorrow’s workforce.” I believe this statement falls right in line with the spirit of SEPAs.
New NIH-Wide STEM Teaching Resources Website
To help educators find free science education content, we recently launched a STEM teaching resources website. It includes NIH-wide teaching materials as well as those from SEPA programs for grades K-12, categorized by different health and research topic areas.
The NIGMS free educational resource Pathways, designed for educators and aspiring scientists in grades 6-12, is one of many resources available through the STEM website. Each issue of Pathways provides information about basic biomedical science and research careers and includes a student magazine, teacher lesson plans, and interactives such as Kahoot! classroom quizzes. Our most recent vaccine science issue teaches students how COVID-19 vaccines work in the body and introduces them to scientists dedicated to vaccine research.
Programs for Early Career Scientists
While SEPA grants focus on future scientists (and their educators) in grades pre-K-12, NIGMS also has a robust research training portfolio for those at the undergraduate through postdoctoral and professional levels. These programs aim to enhance diversity by engaging and training scientists from diverse backgrounds early in their careers.
At the undergraduate level, programs like Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) provide students from diverse backgrounds with mentorship and career development. We recently highlighted the MARC program at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, on our Biomedical Beat blog showing the program’s impact on students.
At the other end of the spectrum, our Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC) program helps promising postdoctoral researchers from diverse backgrounds transition into independent faculty careers. The MOSAIC scholars become part of a career development program to expand their professional networks and gain additional skills and mentoring through scientific societies. You can learn more about each of these impressive early career scientists on our MOSAIC Scholars webpages.
At NIGMS, we’re dedicated to increasing the diversity of the biomedical research workforce. Through STEM content and outreach, as well as scientist training resources, we focus on emphasizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. This holds true with funding and programming for current scientists, and in the inspiration and training of future scientists.
STEM Teaching Resources Website (NIH)
Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) (NIH)
SEPA Award (National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH)
The League of VetaHumanz: Encouraging Kids to Use Their Powers for Good! (Biomedical Beat Blog/NIGMS)
Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Awards (NIGMS)
Catching Up With ReMARCable Vanderbilt Graduates (Biomedical Beat Blog/NIGMS)
Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC) (NIGMS)
Note: Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who performs the duties of the NIH Director, has asked the heads of NIH’s Institutes and Centers (ICs) to contribute occasional guest posts to the blog to highlight some of the interesting science that they support and conduct. This is the 15th in the series of NIH IC guest posts that will run until a new permanent NIH director is in place.
I want to first say, I believe the Comments on this blog, since it is a government official’s blog, should not be moderated, that is, censored for content . Maybe if someone says something clearly beyond the pale, but not otherwise.
Now, having said that, in hopes it will inhibit censors, I want to say, I do not care about diversity in biomedical research. If some kind of research will benefit people, then what is most important is to get it done fast, in my view. I am concerned there is a big, really, really, really big in some cases, lag between research and implementation of findings.
So, my son is autistic – there are many, many causes of autism – some research indicates a preventable cause in his case – but that cause would only account for say 1 in 1,000 of all births – you’d have to head off the problem in 1,000 mothers to prevent one case – but that is worth it, when you consider the cost of taking care of an autistic person their entire life – which is staggering if the numbers typically cited are anywhere near accurate. But to the individual, who would pay for testing to detect the problem, she would spend a significant sum to head off only one of a hundred problems her baby can have. It needs to be implemented by government and viewed as a very long term investment. But it does not happen, because we don’t have long term financial planning.
So, my point is, I am all in favor of inclusion of everyone, but when I hear endless talk about that, as though it is a big problem in advancing medicine, I think about things which appear completely doable, like rapid implementation of research, and do not feel confident anyone is truly minding the store. Biotech companies push hard for advances if there is a big market to sell to, but otherwise, perhaps far too little is done, and the Feds need to think about that?
It seems like the federal health officials are far too concerned with politics in general. Please, include everyone, everyone has the right to not be excluded, but make sure you are doing your main task, getting the research done and implemented.
Steve, thank you for sharing. Regardless of whether someone cares about ‘diversity’ from a moral perspective, it also increases the chances of research advancements. For example, if you have a lab full of white men from affluent backgrounds, they’re likely to have similar ideas about how to approach a problem or fail to consider potential confounding factors outside their realm. However, if you have a lab full of diverse folks from varying backgrounds/experiences, race/ethnicity, etc., you’ll often have significantly more ideas or potential solutions because everyone brings something different to the conversation. One of my colleagues couldn’t be more opposite than I am and it’s often frustrating because we each have very different ways of addressing research questions/projects. However, I rarely admit this to him, but he makes me a better scientist and I’d like to think I do the same for him; we each force each other to look at a problem from different perspectives and often in the frustration, numerous ideas emerge that I’d never have considered if I was only working with folks similar to myself.
Education certainly plays a role enlightening people. Having said that, one does need to pause to reflect on how “group think” effects challenging of commonly held dogma. True education is the ability to go against the grain when there is evidence to suggest that is warranted. Something that academia needs to work on when it come to funding of research. It’s human nature to have biases based on what one is exposed to. Acknowledging it and acting in way that is open to other interpretations is a “giant leap for mankind” (or in this generation “humankind” given the attrition of highly trained women in STEM fields over time). Ask any female colleague, how often their ideas have been co-opted by certain male colleagues as their own. It is also the responsibility of other male colleagues to speak out when they observe this type of behavior.
very interesting and nice article for knowledge.