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Diversity, by intention: While the number of underrepresented minorities is thin at the faculty ranks, recruiting successes at the graduate student level give cause for optimism

December 2007--In 2001, when Peter Maloney became the School of Medicine’s associate dean for graduate student affairs, he made some promises. “One,” he says, “was to keep diversity on the front burner and continually make sure we were doing as much as we could.” At the time, fewer than one in 10 incoming graduate students was an underrepresented minority—African American, Hispanic or Native American.

Today, many of the programs that run through Maloney’s office are designed to give college students from these underrepresented groups access to Hopkins basic science faculty. For instance, faculty give talks at national meetings for minority science majors and at historically black colleges in the area. They also participate in summer internship programs that invite minority students to pursue independent research projects in Hopkins’ basic science labs.

Such efforts have helped produce results. Between 2005 and 2007, underrepresented minorities at Hopkins made up 15 percent of incoming graduate students, up from 6 to 8 percent in the preceding three years.

“The pool of minority students that apply has gone up considerably,” says Maloney, “and the number that decides to come to Hopkins after visiting and interviewing has doubled or even tripled in some cases over the past three years. If we do that for six years, we can transform the entire student body.”

Nationwide, the basic sciences have traditionally had a dearth of underrepresented minorities—and the School of Medicine is no exception. But Maloney’s experience suggests that recruiting efforts can work.

“Minority recruitment requires intentionality,” says David Nichols, vice dean for education. “You’ve got to want to do it. Without providing candidates a sense of being welcomed and sought after, you won’t get them. That’s just the way it is.”

Despite having built a more diverse pipeline at the student level, the School has less encouraging numbers at the faculty level, where 6.5 percent are underrepresented minorities. A study conducted at the School in 2005 found that although 86 percent of underrepresented minority faculty felt they would still be working in academic science in five years, only 39 percent expected to still be at Hopkins, compared to their nonminority colleagues of whom 69 percent expected to remain at Hopkins. “What this tells us,” says Vice Dean for Faculty Janice Clements, “is that they felt they weren’t going to get promoted, that Hopkins was not a place they could succeed.” Specifically, Clements, a professor of comparative biology, suggests that minority faculty members are less likely to feel like they are part of either the formal or informal networks at Hopkins that are important to success here.

Efforts to improve faculty retention are underway. For instance, the administration has brought in consultants to start conducting diversity climate surveys every few years. Funding is being increased for recruiting and retaining minority faculty. Two minority professorships—both awarded to clinicians—were endowed this year.

Lack of mentors has been another barrier to retaining minority faculty and moving students through the pipeline to the faculty level.

“Being mentored is very important,” says Nichols, “No one is entirely self-made.”

Early this year the School of Medicine hosted two retreats for minority faculty members. Among the recommendations the attendees approved was that the School provide more formal mechanisms for mentoring junior minority faculty members and offer training and incentives for senior faculty members to take others under their wing.

One model for mentoring can be found in the Cellular, Molecular, Developmental Biology and Biophysics Department at Homewood. There, students and postdocs have formed a group called MInDS—Mentoring to Inspire Diversity in Science. The group invites minority scientists to give talks and provides career support by offering trainees the opportunity for additional guidance and networking with faculty.

Nichols says real improvement in diversity requires a long-term commitment by a large group of people—something the School pledged to do with the creation of its diversity and inclusion initiative in spring 2006.

“When we started looking at this issue carefully,” says Nichols, “it was pretty clear that Hopkins was like everyone else—sort of average. And we didn’t want to be average. That’s not Johns Hopkins. Diversity is an issue at every medical school right now, and we have to decide if we’re going to lead or follow.”

--Rebecca Alvania

Below is a partial list of organizations offering minority high school students research opportunities in Johns Hopkins labs:

The Center Scholars Program—Funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute in an effort to increase minority presence in the genome sciences at the Ph.D. level. Contact Vicky Schneider.

The Johns Hopkins Internship in Brain Sciences Program—Sponsored by the Department of Neurology for underrepresented minority students. Contact Amanda Brown.

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