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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

December 2020

NIEHS science education office focuses on diversity and equity

To diversify the scientific workforce, NIEHS reaches out to teachers and students, targets internships, attends conferences, and more.

NIEHS is unusual among National Institutes of Health (NIH) institutes and centers in having an Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED). According to OSED Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., her office supports a diverse environmental health workforce as called for in the NIEHS Strategic Plan 2018-2023. Activities include outreach, information sharing, and providing access to opportunities.

As part of our series on NIEHS efforts toward racial equity, this month we take a close look at how OSED helps the institute achieve its strategic goal by connecting with elementary students up to postgraduate trainees.

collage of drawings consisting of scientist, dna, families and environment The NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Strategic Plan recognizes that diversity increases creativity and performance, supports innovation, is essential for reducing health disparities, and achieves more equitable use of public funds. (Image courtesy of NIEHS)

Undergraduate scholars

To increase participation by individuals from groups underrepresented in the scientific workforce, NIEHS hosts local students each year in the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP).

College juniors and seniors, selected through a competitive process, conduct paid research at the institute and get an inside look at scientific careers. Recruiting focuses on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as underrepresented groups at nearby universities, Reid explained.

Ericka Reid, Ph.D. Reid described teachers participating in summer STaRS workshops, led by Lee, as getting re-lit. “They say they forgot how much they love science.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Normally, students — who work with a mentor and lead researcher — arrive in the summer for full-time laboratory research. During the academic year, they work part-time, culminating in presentations to the entire institute.

Lab work is complemented by a series of seminars on leadership, emerging research areas, peer mentoring, articulating accomplishments, and applying to graduate and medical schools.

As with so much in 2020, this year’s program was different.

Uncharted territory

Suchandra Bhattacharjee, Ph.D. “We are grateful to NIEHS leadership, mentors, lab skills teaching partners, seminar speakers, administrative staff, security, technology and web teams, and communications,' said Bhattacharjee. 'It took everyone working together to hold this Fall Connection.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NSCP Coordinator and OSED Undergraduate Research Training Program Manager Suchandra Bhattacharjee, Ph.D., said that this year’s program cycle began in fall, after a summer spent reworking the plan.

“Launching NSCP in a virtual format meant treading in uncharted territory,” she said. “But we’ve had incredible support from leadership and mentors, and the scholars were enthusiastic, saying they would do it all over again!” See the current scholars in the slideshow below.

The fall connection wrapped up with a three-minute talk competition on Nov. 20 (see second sidebar).


HBCU-Connect is a new OSED program targeting freshmen and sophomores at local HBCUs to build their awareness of NIEHS and environmental health careers. “We can expand the pipeline by feeding into it sooner,” Reid explained.

Students will be encouraged to learn more about NIEHS through information sessions, shadow researchers during spring break, and apply to the Summer Internship Program. “That way, they would already know about NSCP and be prepping for it,” she continued.

Nearby North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is slated to be the first connection, launching in spring of 2021. “We would have launched this fall, with tours by freshman and sophomore students and faculty, and meetings with current scholars and postbacs,” Reid said, referring to postbaccalaureate fellows.

Conference outreach

Reid has long conducted outreach by attending meetings of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science; the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students; Society of Toxicology (SOT) conferences; and other events.

The first two groups register several thousand participants for their annual meetings, more than 900 of whom are students, according to Reid. She promotes environmental health, internships, fellowships, and other opportunities at the institute.

In 2019, partnership with the SOT Committee on Diversity Initiatives led to the first NIEHS/SOT Undergraduate Scholar, chosen from among the NSCP participants. Mentored by an NIEHS scientist who is also an SOT member, the scholar presents a poster at the annual conference. This year’s NIEHS/SOT Scholar, Jadesola Oladosu, hails from NCCU. She is mentored by Sue Fenton, Ph.D., whom NIH named an outstanding mentor earlier this year.

Reaching outward and inward

  • School partnerships include visits to classrooms by NIEHS Speakers Bureau volunteers, teacher workshops, and multiyear partnerships with specific schools, especially those with underserved populations. Huei-Chen Lee, Ph.D., coordinates K-12 science education.
  • The Diversity Speaker Series hosts talks by scientists and other professionals from underrepresented groups emphasized by the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion — women; sex and gender minorities; people with disabilities; and African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian and Pacific Islanders.
  • Internal efforts include NIEHS intranet pages on equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as a blog on related topics.
Louise Batta Senior Louise Batta, North Carolina State University (NCSU) chemistry major, is mentored by Joan Packenham, Ph.D., head of the Office of Human Research Compliance in the Clinical Research Branch.
Shama Birla University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) senior Shama Birla, majoring in biology, conducts research mentored by Erik Tokar, Ph.D., head of the Stem Cell Toxicology Group.
Ciani Bradley Ciani Bradley, a senior majoring biology at St. Augustine’s University, is mentored by Lalith Perera, Ph.D., director of the Computational Chemistry and Molecular Modeling Support Group.
Maira Haque NCSU senior Maira Haque, NSCP returning scholar, is majoring in human biology. She is mentored by Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D., in the Nucleolar Integrity Group, led by Robin Stanley, Ph.D.
Glenn Jackson Glenn Jackson, a senior majoring in biology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, is mentored by Sue Fenton, Ph.D., head of the Reproductive Endocrinology Group.
Hiromu Koyama Environmental engineering major Hiromu Koyama, a senior at NCSU, is mentored by Geoff Mueller, Ph.D., head of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Group, and Jean Harry, Ph.D., head of the Neurotoxicology Group.
Sade Lewis Sade Lewis, NCCU senior majoring in environmental sciences, is mentored by Gabe Knudsen, Ph.D., Ron Cannon, Ph.D., and Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., who leads the Toxicokinetics and Toxicology Laboratory.
Joy Honkun Lu Biology major Joy Honkun Lu, a senior at Duke University, is mentored by Chitrangda Srivastava, Ph.D., in the Cell Biology Group, led by Anton Jetten, Ph.D.
Jadesola Oladosu NIEHS/SOT Scholar Jadesola Oladosu, NCCU junior majoring in pharmacology, is mentored by Sue Fenton, Ph.D., head of the Reproductive Endocrinology Group.
Eddy Rios Biology major Eddy Rios, a senior at UNC, conducts research in the Molecular Pathogenesis Group, led by Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Elinor Shelp-Peck Meredith College junior Elinor Shelp-Peck, majoring in biology, conducts research in the Pregnancy and Female Reproduction Group, led by Francesco DeMayo, Ph.D., and mentored by Sylvia Hewitt and Steve Wu, Ph.D.
Emma Wallace NCSU genetics major Emma Wallace’s research project is mentored by Mechanisms of Mutation Group leader Roel Schaaper, Ph.D.
Christopher Williams NCSU senior Christopher Williams is majoring in developmental biology. His research is mentored by Jean Harry, Ph.D., in the Neurotoxicology Group, and Jian Liang Li, Ph.D., director of the Integrative Bioinformatics Support Group.

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