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Groundbreaking ODU Students Aim to Increase Diversity in Biomedical Research Field

July 23, 2021

By Hannah Kearse

Gymama Slaughter described the recent inaugural induction ceremony for the Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (G-RISE) program at Old Dominion University as "a dream come true."

"We are excited to be a part of the nation's mission of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities obtaining Ph.D.s in the biomedical research field and transitioning them to the biomedical workforce in Virginia," said the executive director of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics and director of NIH G-RISE. "ODU has such incredible resources that will nurture underrepresented students to undoubtedly succeed in the discipline."

ODU and the Center for Bioelectronics hosted the event in the Michael and Kimthanh LĂȘ Planetarium at the new Chemistry Building.

The 2021 inductees are Christopher Animashaun (biomedical engineering), Brian Hanson Jr. (computer science), Alexis Moody (biomedical sciences), Shaquwana Simpson (chemistry and biochemistry) and Kayah Tucker (biomedical sciences). Each was presented with an honor cord that represents courage and integrity, a certificate of induction and a video from their undergraduate mentor.

"You are among a very select group of young scholars entering the field of biomedical research," said Robert Wojtowicz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. "As G-RISE participants, you are also in the vanguard of a national effort to diversify the ranks of our top scientists. Think of yourselves as emerging leaders, because that's how your faculty mentors and I think of you."

G-RISE is designed to increase the diversity of biomedical researchers by attracting underrepresented students from minority, military, socioeconomically disadvantaged and disability groups to the field.

The program is funded by a $1.6 million renewable grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) awarded to principal investigator Slaughter and co-PI Alvin Holder, associate professor of chemistry and director of ODU's Maximizing Access to Research Careers Program (MARC).

The award also comes with a $1.1 million institutional match from ODU.

STEM students in the ODU Hampton Roads-STEM Summer Institute K-12 Program and the NIH MARC program were present to support the new scholars.

Remica Bingham-Risher, poet and director of Quality Enhancement Plan Initiatives at ODU, read the Lucille Clifton poem "won't you celebrate with me," which explores the struggles of life and one's perseverance. Keynote speakerJohn Newby, CEO of Virginia Bio, told the scholars they are already born leaders and encouraged them to maximize this opportunity. The partnership between ODU and Virginia Bio is designed to provide exposure to the biomedical workforce and retention of talent in Virginia.

Lesley Greene, associate dean of graduate studies for the College of Sciences and ODU's G-RISE administrator, and Barbara Hargrave, graduate program director of biomedical studies and G-RISE coordinator, shared their perspectives on academic merit, scholarship, leadership and service and how these intertwine with the G-RISE program.

"All scholars to be inducted today have demonstrated excellence in scholarship and merit," Greene said.

Holder recited the G-RISE pledge, which included a quote from Maya Angelou: "We are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters, we are our brothers and sisters."

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