Detroit — The National Institutes of Health on Wednesday announced a $21.2 million grant to a consortium of four local universities to attract more minority and underprivileged students into biomedical research and doctorate programs.
The grant will be shared over five years by Wayne State University, the University of Detroit Mercy, Marygrove College and the Wayne College Community College District.
The award is part of a $31 million grant for 50 awardees and partnering institutions nationwide.
Locally, it will be used to create a pipeline of students into STEM fields by exposing them to lab research and enhancing the research training environment while offering peer mentoring and faculty advising. The initiative will be known as REBUILD Detroit — an acronym for Research Enhancement for Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity.
“This is very important, not just because of the shortage of underrepresented individuals in the biomedical field,” said Antoine Garibaldi, president of UDM, the lead recipient on the grant. “But also because we are in such a large and diverse metro area. Research is extremely important to many corporations and to health care. The fact that our institutions are involved in this grant means that many will serve as pipelines to the community.”
Though students from underrepresented backgrounds enter biomedical research training in numbers that reflect the population, studies show that they are less likely to pursue the field.
“History has shown addressing challenges that disproportionately affect minority populations often have a transformative impact on the majority as well,” said Marygrove President David J. Fike.
WSU President M. Roy Wilson served on an NIH committee that analyzed the number of students in biomedical Ph.D. programs over a 10-year period. It found that only 500 underrepresented minorities earned doctorates annually in chemistry, physics and biological sciences, compared with about 20,000 Ph.D.s earned by others.
“That really stunned us,” Wilson said. “We knew the numbers were small but not that small.”
Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH director who announced the grants via teleconference, called the awards a “bold experiment” and said students pursue biomedical fields when given an opportunity.
“The biomedical research enterprise must engage all sectors of the population in order to solve the most complex biological problems and discover innovative new ways to improve human health,” Collins said.
“While past efforts to diversify our workforce have had significant impact on individuals, we have not made substantial progress in expanding diversity on a larger scale.”
George W. Swan III, vice chancellor of external affairs at WCCCD, said the aligning of the four Detroit universities is so unique that there will be doors opened for students throughout the community.
“We talk about rebuilding Detroit. (With this) we are rebuilding Detroit ... literally,” Swan said.