University of Maryland School of Medicine and UMBC Receive NIH FIRST Grant to Recruit New Underrepresented Faculty

The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) were awarded a 5-year, $13.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to enhance efforts at recruiting and training junior faculty from underrepresented groups in biomedical science. The grant comes from the NIH Common Fund, the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program, founded last year for the purpose of supporting efforts to hire diverse groups of early-career research faculty.

The funds will hire a group of six faculty members at UMSOM and four at UMBC, each of whom will have cross-campus appointments at both institutions.

“Achieving diversity in early-career faculty has proven to be an ongoing challenge that we believe we can meet with the FIRST program,” said lead principal investigator on the grant, James Kaper, PhD, the James and Carolyn Frenkil Distinguished Dean’s Professor, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, and Chair of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at UMSOM. “It is designed to foster sustainable culture change and promote inclusive excellence by enabling us to hire a diverse cohort of new faculty and to support faculty development, mentoring, and promotion opportunities.”

The grant aims to build self-reinforcing communities of scientists committed to diversity and inclusive excellence, through the recruitment of early-career faculty who are competitive for Assistant Professor (or equivalent) positions and have a demonstrated commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence. UMSOM and UMBC will work to determine if these hiring efforts and other evidence-based strategies achieve the goal of accelerating inclusive excellence. This will be measured by clearly defined metrics of institutional culture change, diversity, and inclusion.

“As scientists, Dr. Kaper and I recognize the importance of diversity in maintaining a healthy ecosystem,” said Principal investigator William LaCourse, PhD, Professor and Dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at UMBC. “We recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to a diverse faculty and academic environment. That is why we feel it is crucial to recruit, mentor, and increase access to advancement opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM.”

The new faculty hires will choose to perform research in either neuroscience, cancer biology, or microbiology/immunology and infectious disease. These research areas are ones in which the schools already have real strength, said Dr. Kaper, so mentorship and collaboration should be more easily attainable. The grant also will provide funds for group professional development to help the new hires succeed.

“The dearth of opportunities in STEM for minorities, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with disabilities is one of our most critical challenges,” said Mark T. Gladwin, MD, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs at UMB and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean at UMSOM. “This tremendous grant from NIH is a major step in helping to ensure that our faculty composition more accurately reflects the communities we serve, as we work toward our goal of becoming a magnet university for diversity and social justice.”

Sandra Quezada, MD, MS, Associate Dean for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Professor of Medicine at UMSOM said, “This is an exciting opportunity to strengthen the diversity of our faculty, and to enrich the depth and breadth of mentorship programming for all new and existing diverse faculty at UMSOM.”

The NIH FIRST grant builds off UMBC’s highly esteemed Meyerhoff Scholars Program, started more than 30 years ago, which has led to UMBC being the leading college for developing underrepresented STEM recruits at the undergraduate level. UMBC is the nation’s #1 producer of Black undergraduates who go on to complete a PhD in the natural sciences or engineering and #1 for Black undergraduates who complete an MD/PhD. At the same time that UMBC excels in educating undergraduates, it is also classified as one of only 146 R1 (“very high research activity”) institutions in the nation. 

UMBC’s efforts to promote faculty diversity in STEM include the PROMISE Academy and ADVANCE, which has increased women faculty in STEM by 70 percent at UMBC since 2003. The College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences’ Pre-professoriate Fellowship offers incoming faculty two-year appointments as research assistant professors, with structured mentoring and other scaffolds for success. Faculty who came to UMBC through this program in biological sciences, physics, and chemistry have already been converted to tenure-track assistant professors. 

UMSOM also is an epicenter of a STEM, health-science pipeline with the UMB CURES program for middle and high school students, several internship and summer research programs for college students, and multiple post-graduate training programs that give underrepresented scholars direct experience in a laboratory setting.

“Between the two schools, we have a long track record of diverse training opportunities and underrepresented minorities in leadership. However, there is a gap at the faculty level, in that the makeup does not represent the minority percentage found in the general population,” said Dr. Kaper. “This grant will address those gaps to ensure our university is a more equitable one.”

The project is funded by the NIH Common Fund (U54CA272205).

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world — with 46 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs, and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.3 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic, and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has nearly $600 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 students, trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of over $6 billion and an economic impact of nearly $20 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity (according to the Association of American Medical Colleges profile) is an innovator in translational medicine, with 606 active patents and 52 start-up companies. In the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of the Best Medical Schools, published in 2021, the UM School of Medicine is ranked #9 among the 92 public medical schools in the U.S., and in the top 15 percent (#27) of all 192 public and private U.S. medical schools. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit medschool.umaryland.edu

About the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

UMBC is a leading public research university known for innovative teaching, relevant research across disciplines, and a supportive community that empowers and inspires inquisitive minds. UMBC serves 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and combines the learning opportunities of a liberal arts college with the creative intensity of a leading research university. UMBC was classified as an R1 (“very high research activity”) institution in 2022 under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. At the same time, UMBC is one of the country’s most inclusive education communities, including students from more than 90 countries. UMBC also contributes to Maryland through strong government and industry partnerships that advance K–16 education, entrepreneurship, workforce training, and technology commercialization. U.S. News & World Report has named UMBC a national leader in both innovation and undergraduate teaching, and has recognized UMBC’s graduate programs as among the nation’s best. Times Higher Education has recognized UMBC as one of the world’s top 100 young universities for strong research, innovation, and an international outlook. Visit umbc.edu for more information.