Hampton U. scores science and tech mentoring network grant

By Jennifer Hunt

Hampton University competed against 38 other entities for a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and was one of five institutions nationwide to receive it. The NIH awarded Hampton with over $192,000 in the form of a planning grant to establish a National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Consortium.
The consortium will be tasked to create a network and mentorship program to serve individuals from ethnic backgrounds who are underrepresented in the biomedical field. The NIH also expects the network to provide more information and direction for individuals seeking careers in the research workforce.

“There exists a critical national need to diversify the education pipeline in America’s institutions of higher learning,” said Chenere Ramsay, NRMN Consortium project director. “Representation of minorities in the pipeline leading to Ph.D. and research careers drops at each successive educational level.
“While African-Americans constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they receive approximately 9 percent of U.S. baccalaureate degrees, and less than 4 percent of the Ph.D.’s awarded. Hispanics, who constitute more than 14 percent of the U.S. population, receive less than 7 percent of the bachelor’s degrees and only a little more than 3 percent of the Ph.D. degrees.”

Francis S. Collins, National Institutes of Health director, released a statement on the NIH ’s official website, http://www.nih.gov, saying, “Even after controlling for education, institution, and other factors that influence the likelihood of success, black investigators were still 10 percentage points less likely than white investigators to receive a new research project grant. These results are troubling and unacceptable.”

The grant has three specific aims:
• Implementing a six-month planning initiative that will lead to the formation of partnerships and an infrastructure for the national consortium;
• Analyzing the mentoring and networking programs available within those partnerships and assessing each organization’s ability to expand or develop new programs as needed,
• And designing innovative mentoring methods.
Hampton is now in the process of implementing the planning initiative and has about 60 other universities, colleges and national associations involved in the consortium, said Elnora Daniel, special assistant to the president for research.

“One of the major challenges will be developing an organizational structure that will pull all of these entities together and allow the mentee to enter the system and acquire the various mentoring services that they need,” said Daniel.

An ultimate goal of the NRMN is to generate interest of the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research fields among underrepresented groups ranging anywhere from the undergraduate to junior faculty levels and provide them with the guidance they need to succeed in research careers.

“The Hampton NRMN Consortium is very hopeful that we will get funded to implement our ideas in efforts to increase diversity for future generations of scientists,” said Ramsey.

This five-year grant may award upwards of $20 to $30 million per year. The current grant is only the first initial phase for the NRMN, said Daniel.

While the grant for the actual establishment of the mentoring network will not be released until the planning phase is near completion, the institutions involved know there will only be one as opposed to the five given for the planning grant.

Other institutions that received the planning grant and are charged with setting up their own consortium include: The Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas, and University of Utah.

The writer is a student in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications