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Three student-adviser pairs recognized by HHMI

Aug. 9, 2018, 10:13 AM


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded 2018 Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study to 45 doctoral student-adviser pairs from across the country. Three are from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

All have demonstrated high promise to become leaders in their fields, says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education.

“These are incredibly talented young scientists with the desire to become college and university faculty, where they will help shape the next generation students,” Asai says.

The Gilliam program aims to ensure that a diverse and highly trained workforce is prepared to assume leadership roles in science. HHMI is taking a two-pronged approach: supporting promising graduate students from groups that are underrepresented in science and helping their thesis advisers build inclusive training environments.

Each pair will receive an annual award totaling $50,000 — which includes a stipend, a training allowance and an institutional allowance — for up to three years. Fellows’ thesis advisers will participate in a year of mentor development activities, including online training and two in-person workshops at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Three students from VUSM’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) and their advisers were selected for the Gilliam fellowship:

  • Neuroscience graduate student Jordan Brown and her adviser, J. David Sweatt, PhD, the Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology;
  • Neuroscience graduate student Francis Cambronero and her adviser Angela Jefferson, PhD, professor of Neurology and director of the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center; and
  • Cancer biology graduate student Tolu Omokehinde and his adviser Rachelle Johnson, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology.

For the first time since the Gilliam program began in 2004, a portion of the annual award will support activities designed to foster diversity and inclusion in the mentors’ labs and departments. Applicants proposed some creative ideas, including partnering with their departments to impact faculty hiring practices and holding symposia that include speakers from underrepresented backgrounds. Such conferences “will show students that successful scientists don’t all look the same,” Asai says.

“HHMI Gilliam Fellowships are awarded to student/mentor pairs because the mentor is key to creating an inclusive environment for the student to thrive. So, these awards are a wonderful affirmation of both our students and our faculty,” said Linda Sealy, PhD, IMSD director and associate dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Basic Sciences at VUSM. “We can be very proud to have three Gilliam Fellowship recipients who are outstanding students mentored by faculty who are strongly committed to providing a supportive and welcoming environment for students from historically underrepresented groups.”

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