Cleveland's anchor institutions receive NIH funding to recruit minority Ph.D. students

At a time when the national conversation is focused on narrowing the gap of racial equity, two of Cleveland's anchor institutions have been awarded grant funding that will help them turn words into action.

Cleveland State University and Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute received a five-year, $1.2 million T32 training award from the National Institutes of Health to recruit underrepresented minority Ph.D. students and students underrepresented in the science and technology workforce.

The two institutions will recruit the students into their biomedical research programs, building a pipeline of minority scientists in the Cleveland area.

The grant is a collaborative initiative involving the joint graduate school programs of the two institutions. Meredith Bond, Ph.D., of Cleveland State, and Christine Moravec, Ph.D., of Lerner Research Institute, are co-principal investigators on the grant, titled "CD-Cavs: Cross-Disciplinary Cardiovascular Sciences Training to Diversify the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Workforce."

This is a new and exciting chapter for our institutions which have partnered for 50 years to train Ph.D. students for careers in biomedical sciences. These students will benefit from the unique pairing of an urban university recognized for cutting-edge research and a world-renowned academic medical center to deliver an experience consistent with our mission of advancing both them and the larger research community."

Harlan Sands, President, Cleveland State University

The grant comes amidst the backdrop of a broad national call for diversity and inclusion and underscores the role universities and hospitals have in doing more than just moving the conversation forward.

"At Cleveland Clinic inclusion is one of our core values. A program like this serves as an example of how we can infuse much- needed diversity into our research community," said Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic, M.D. "By bringing together individuals with different experiences and perspectives, we can capitalize on the diversity of thought that can lead to innovative approaches to address complex scientific questions. Along with our academic partner, we can work towards building a more robust scientific workforce reflective of the community at large and address long-standing structural racism that leads to healthcare disparities."

According to the National Science Foundation, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans make up about 31% of the U.S. population but only represent 13% of those receiving doctorate degrees in science and engineering.

"Historically, there has been a lack of diversity in the scientific workforce, yet studies have shown that diversity increases creativity, promotes higher quality problem-solving and enhances innovation," said Moravec, cardiovascular research scientist and director of Research Education and Training at Lerner Research Institute. "This grant will enable our institutions to work together to broaden the diversity, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of those entering STEM fields and the biomedical research workforce."

"This program is unique because students will benefit from the diverse student culture at Cleveland State while training in labs at CSU and at the top U.S hospital in the nation for cardiovascular care. The successful outcome of this grant will be 15 to 20 Ph.D. candidates from under-represented backgrounds, sharing the resources of both CSU and Cleveland Clinic, and joining the ranks of STEM professionals," said Bond, Dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions at Cleveland State. "Recruiting more diversity into STEM careers is essential to achieve not only equity, but also optimal outcomes and successes in biomedical/bioengineering research."

The grant will support the recruitment, education and laboratory training of five Ph.D. students per year over the next 5 years. The trainees will be part of longstanding joint Ph.D. programs between Lerner Research Institute and Cleveland State. The students will complete advanced coursework for their Ph.D. at Cleveland State and will complete their dissertation research in a cardiovascular research lab at one of the two locations. Their individual advisory committees will include faculty from both organizations. Each student will have a clinician mentor in addition to a laboratory-based mentor, facilitating their education in the clinical manifestations of diseases they will study in the laboratory and their integration of laboratory findings into clinical care.

In addition to a wealth of seminars and career development opportunities available to all trainees in the joint Ph.D. programs, additional enrichment activities will be designed for this group of students. They will receive mentoring and professional development based on their individual backgrounds and needs and will participate in regular discussion groups with other trainees from under-represented backgrounds, discussing challenges and opportunities.

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