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Dr. Ana Diez Roux, Dean of the Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health, and co-leader of the project. Photo: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News.
Dr. Ana Diez Roux, Dean of the Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health, and co-leader of the project. Photo: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News.

Drexel’s School of Public Health, College of Nursing and Health Professions receive grant to diversify health disparities research faculty

The National Institutes of Health’s new Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) grant will allow the university to recruit and…

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Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and College of Nursing and Health Professions recently received a five-year, $14.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The “Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation” (FIRST) grant from the NIH is part of a novel initiative to “enhance and maintain cultures of inclusive excellence in the health research community” through diverse hiring, recruitment and retainment.

“It is something the NIH has never done before and responds to the fact that having scientists from diverse backgrounds is critical to getting the science right, and yet the success rate of BIPOC scientists at NIH when applying for grants has not been what it should be,” Dr. Ana Diez Roux, Dean of the Drexel Dornsife School of Public Health, told AL DÍA.

The NIH initiative also aims to address inequities in the historical funding patterns of early stage BIPOC investigators. They are historically underfunded and do not receive the necessary mentorship and guidance to navigate academic careers and NIH funding success. 

Through the grant, Drexel will be able to hire 12 early stage scientists and researchers with a focus on health disparities research, more specifically on aging, chronic disease and/or environmental determinants. 

“By hiring in clusters and creating a community of scientists who share research questions and disciplinary perspectives and are supported through intentional mentorship, our Drexel FIRST cohort will yield unique and important contributions to health disparities research,” said Dr. Laura Gitlin, Distinguished University Professor and Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions. 

Drexel is one of six institutions nationwide to receive this funding, and the only recipient in Pennsylvania. 

Drexel has long had a commitment to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in recruitment, retention and promotion across careers in each of its colleges. The university has more recently adopted goals to foster an inclusive and equity-driven culture and to strengthen transdisciplinary research. This grant will allow the university to further those efforts.

The university is also among the leading institutions for its health disparities research work. 

“Our grant’s focus on health disparities builds upon our respective strengths in population health and intervention science and closing the gap between knowledge generation and action at the individual, community and policy levels,” said Dr. Gitlin. 

To this end, Dr. Diez Roux noted how the grant will help energize and expand the already extensive work Drexel is doing through its numerous existing centers and initiatives, including the Urban Health Collaborative, the Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity, the Age Well Collaboratory and various clinic sites and labs. 

“Most importantly, the project aims to transform Drexel University policies and practices in order to promote inclusive excellence in all our work by changing the ways in which we hire and support early career scientists and by synergizing this interdisciplinary research so important to our city and country,” she said. 

Once the structure of the grant is developed, new programming will also become available to existing faculty and staff at the University to foster an inclusive environment and maintain the program’s viability beyond this grant funding. 

“We believe our approach and collective focus on knowledge generation and its application in health disparities, will have a big impact,” added Dr. Gitlin. 

For more information on the program, click here

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