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Biomedical sciences training grant affirms commitment to advance diversity in workforce

Initiative for Maximizing Student Development supports students from underrepresented backgrounds

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

April 22, 2020

Second-year GSBS student Xavier Gonzalez is a member of the school’s NIH-funded Initiative to Maximize Student Development.

UMass Medical School has been awarded a five-year, $1.4 million renewal of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development training grant from the National Institutes of Health. This funding enables the school to provide financial and academic support to Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences students from backgrounds underrepresented in the field. Kate Lapane, PhD, and Brian Lewis, PhD, are principal investigators for the grant.

“Receipt of this award validates that the efforts at UMMS to train a diverse group of graduate students and to build a community of diverse trainees are recognized nationally,” said Dr. Lewis, associate professor of molecular, cell, & cancer biology, assistant vice provost for outreach and recruitment, and associate dean for diversity and prematriculation programs for GSBS at UMMS. “It recognizes that we attract talented students into the graduate school, and that these students make significant contributions to their respective fields.”

The program strives to increase the number of students who complete PhD degrees despite socially, culturally, economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds that inhibit entry into research training and careers.

“The financial support and the many other aspects of the IMSD program have been instrumental in my development as a graduate student,” said Kellianne Alexander, a GSBS student in her fourth year of study in the lab of Michael Francis, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology. “Monthly seminars and workshops helped me refine my scientific writing and presentation skills and provided leadership opportunities. Our student network is also strong.”

Alexander received a highly competitive Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Graduate Fellowship. In addition to supporting her research, the three-year, $150,000 grant allocates funding specifically for activities that foster diversity and inclusion in science.

Second-year GSBS student Xavier Gonzalez said the IMSD opportunity tipped his decision in favor of UMass Medical School. He is studying host-pathogen interactions in the immunology lab of Javier Irazoqui, PhD, associate professor of microbiology & physiological systems. Also interested in health and science policy, Gonzalez is a member of the UMMS student group Paths2Policy.

“One of the biggest benefits of IMSD is the fact that you have extra support throughout your whole time in graduate school,” said Gonzalez. He appreciates that guest speakers at IMSD events go beyond research. “Hot topic lunches address broader issues that affect graduate students, like coping with stress and finding affordable housing.”

"Support for this program from UMMS leadership demonstrated our institution’s commitment to developing a diverse pool of doctorally prepared scientists,” said Dr. Lapane, professor of population & quantitative health sciences and associate dean for clinical and population health research for the GSBS. “With this grant, Brian and I will be able to offer evidence-based experiences that will enhance the IMSD training program.”

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Kellianne Alexander named HHMI Gilliam Graduate Fellow
Grant expands opportunities for underrepresented students in biomedical sciences to pursue graduate study
Dean Flotte announces new roles for three faculty members
NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development funds UMMS program