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NIH Awards SF State Awarded $17 million Enhance Workforce Diversity in Biomedical Research

San Francisco State University has been awarded $17.04 million to address issues of workforce diversity in biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health announced today.

The effort is called SF BUILD, which stands for Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity. Professors in biology, chemistry/biochemistry, psychology and other fields at SF State working on the project are seeking to upend the presuppositions about members of minority communities — that they may not have the aptitude or the background to excel in the sciences. “We are funded to prime institutional transformation,” said Professor of Biology Leticia Márquez-Magaña, the principal investigator for SF BUILD. “Let’s fix the institution, instead of fixing the students and not recognizing their assets.”

The NIH — the federal agency that conducts and supports medical research, and also investigates the causes and treatments of diseases — has committed $240 million over five years toward novel approaches that encourage individuals, including those among groups underrepresented in the sciences, to pursue biomedicine. “We have not made substantial progress in supporting diversity,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “This program will test new models of training and mentoring so that we can ultimately attract the best minds from all groups to biomedical research.”

Capitalizing on SF State’s strength in diversity and its history as a university renowned for scientific teaching, research training and community engagement, the BUILD project at the University has four broad goals:

  • Increase the persistence of underrepresented students and their skills for biomedical research, particularly among populations seeing disparities in what is known as health equity;
  • Provide professional development for faculty to improve scientific teaching, training and productivity;
  • Build capacity for improved science education and research training in a sustainable way;
  • Gather evidence on SF BUILD’s approach and practices for raising the level of participation and success for underrepresented students in science.

To respond to the national need for a more diverse pool of researchers, SF BUILD is setting out to reduce stereotype threat in teaching and research — and increase the graduation rates at the University for underrepresented students in biomedical disciplines from around 20 percent to 40 percent. That will involve training and mentoring for faculty and instructors. In addition, every student in BUILD will participate in a mentored two-year research project and gain skills in interdisciplinary, community-based science.

SF State is the lead institution for this BUILD project, and its research partner is the University of California, San Francisco.

The NIH is funding SF BUILD for five years, with the potential for a five-year renewal. “My drive is based on my experience growing up and my experience at elite institutions,” said Márquez-Magaña, reflecting on her life as the daughter of newly arrived immigrants, and as a student at Stanford University and then the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned her doctorate in biochemistry. “The institutions didn’t recognize that I had a lot of value that came because I had these other experiences. At the time, I thought something was wrong with me. The value I was bringing was certainly not seen.”