Brown’s biomedical engineering institute to lead alliance focused on faculty diversity

Researchers from the Institute for Biology, Engineering and Medicine at Brown will lead an effort with Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Yale to increase the number of faculty from historically underrepresented groups.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Researchers from the Institute for Biology, Engineering and Medicine at Brown University will lead a collaboration involving colleagues from Brown, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and Yale University to design and implement strategies to increase the number of faculty from groups historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

With grants totaling $3.3 million from the National Science Foundation, the institutions will identify approaches to bolster diversity, equity and inclusion in academic programs that educate future STEM professionals by addressing hiring practices, with a specific focus on biomedical engineering.

“Strengthening research, discovery and innovation in STEM and addressing some of society’s most pressing challenges requires inviting, welcoming and investing in scholars who bring diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds,” said Vicki Colvin, a Brown professor of engineering and chemistry who directs the Institute for Biology, Engineering and Medicine (I-BEAM) and is the lead investigator on the grant. “To make strides in this area demands addressing systemic obstacles in hiring and workplace practices, and being deliberate about cultivating inclusive communities that promote exploration and collaboration. This grant will help us recognize and create effective approaches that can benefit the entire sector.”

The award is part of the National Science Foundation’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate program, which supports alliances among higher education institutions to increase the number of historically underrepresented STEM faculty.

The grant will enable the four schools to create the Alliance for Relevant and Inclusive Sponsorship of Engineering Researchers. The members will aim to promote equity and inclusion by extending the professional networks and opportunities of young biomedical engineering scholars, and in doing so, to increase the visibility, collaborations and professional successes of diverse young researchers.

Project leaders say that in interdisciplinary areas such as biomedical engineering, success for young scholars can depend on the academic connections and collaborations they develop outside of their particular field or home academic department. This same ethos is part of the mission of I-BEAM, Colvin noted — the new institute at Brown is bringing together faculty and students from the life sciences and engineering to create solutions that improve human health.

The ARISE Alliance will encourage more connections between early-career scholars — doctoral candidates, postdoctoral research scholars and early-career faculty — and their colleagues at the partner institutions. Participants will have access to a motivated and trained cadre of faculty “sponsors” who will actively promote their research and support networking activities and extended campus visits. Longer term, these networks will translate into greater diversity among faculty in the ARISE Alliance’s academic departments, project leaders say.

“Sponsorship is distinct from mentorship in that sponsors are concerned less with the transfer of knowledge between individuals and more with the transfer of power and influence, which are critical to enduring success and impact,” Colvin said. 

As measuring impact is central to the award requirements, internal and external advisory boards will routinely review the ARISE Alliance’s progress, engage with sponsors and strategize future steps. The alliance team is also developing and distributing sponsorship and hiring guides for biomedical engineering.

Brown co-investigators on the grant include Kimani Toussaint, a professor of engineering and senior associate dean for research and strategic initiatives at the School of Engineering; Celinda Kofron, a senior lecturer in engineering; and Malik Boykin, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences.