One of the strengths of The RNA Institute is the diversity of our faculty's research and the broad range of disciplines. However like most institutions of higher education, the diversity of faculty, graduate and postdoctoral trainees lags behind the diversity of UAlbany's undergraduate and our surrounding communities population. In line with the University's mission to ensure that diversity, in its people and in its ideas, drives excellence in everything that it does, the RNA Institute launched in 2019-2020 a multi-pronged approach to increase diversity and support inclusivity at the Institute and across STEM disciplines.
RNA Institute Undergraduate Summer Program
The RNA Institute sponsors a summer undergraduate program to promote STEM training related to RNA sciences. Our focus in the last two years has been to increase minority representation in this program to ensure diversity in the next generation of potential graduate students. In 2019 and 2020, 13 underrepresented minorities (URM) students participated in the program with partial funding from the University's Strategic Allocation of Resources (StAR) program.
To directly address the pipeline of recruits to the RNA Institute, our affiliated faculty and graduate students visit Colleges and Universities to directly speak to and recruit graduate students from Institutions with strong URM populations. These initiatives, also supported by UAlbany's StAR funding, enabled RNA Institute faculty and trainees to visit over a half dozen of these institutions in 2019/2020. This outreach effort, with its focus on recruiting URM was able to reach over 150 undergraduates and will be ongoing in future years.
RNA Institute Symposium Diversity Program
Although the 2020 RNA Institute Symposium was postponed due to COVID-19, travel fellowships were awarded to URM undergraduate and graduate trainees to participate in the RNA symposium. These awards will be carried over to the 2021 symposium, where we hope to further foster and support URM voices in our program to strengthen inclusion.
Graduate Training and Diversity: T32 RNA Fellows Program
The RNA Fellows program, supported by an NIH T32 Training grant, is supporting diversity at UAlbany. One quarter of the 2020-2021 class are URM fellows, with plans to increase representation in future classes. This program provides a comprehensive, intellectually rigorous, and individualized graduate training experience in the principles of RNA and related technologies that have applications in human health and disease.
Advising the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) on Diversity
RNA Institute Director, Andy Berglund, is advising MDA on its new initiative to provide diversity supplements to undergraduate and graduate students. This initiative, patterned after the NIH diversity supplement program, aims to improve the diversity of researchers in the muscular dystrophy field. The program's goal is to support diversity while streamlining the application process, reducing the overall administrative burden, and greatly increase the time to award compared to the NIH program. Being a smaller organization than the NIH, the MDA can be more nimble and efficient in its effort to support diversity.
NIH Diversity Supplements
The NIH diversity supplement program was established to increase diversity in the research workforce by providing training, mentorship, and career development opportunities to individuals who are underrepresented in biomedical, behavioral, clinical, social, and basic sciences research. At the RNA Institute, this program helps support a number of students and is part of the lnstitute's program to diversify our trainees. To further support this effort, the Institute is encouraging and offering bridge funding for faculty to take advantage of the NIH diversity supplements to recruit and train a diverse biomedical workforce.
To further promote discussion surrounding diversity in the STEM field, the RNA Institute's upcoming year of RNA Café speakers' Series will focus on highlighting URM voices in the STEM field and will host panel discussions on practical solutions to improving diversity in STEM.
Male Faculty 'Ambassadors' Promote Gender Equity in the STEM Fields
Drs. Berglund and Rangan participated in a panel discussion hosted by Women in Science and Health (WISH) and pledged a more active role in achieving gender equity among faculty in science and health fields. Practical actions were discussed that could be taken to ensure equitable hiring and promotion processes and to remove barriers to women's advancement.