New Georgetown program takes inclusive, integrative approach to biomedical sciences

Georgetown University this month launched a new program that will create an interdisciplinary community of students pursuing doctoral degrees in the biomedical sciences, prioritizing mentorship and professional development. The National Institutes of Health awarded Georgetown University a highly competitive and prestigious training grant to support the program, which is called the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) and seeks to increase diversity and inclusion in the scientific workforce.

Creating an interdisciplinary community

The five-year IMSD program will bring together more than 60 Georgetown faculty from seven graduate programs and departments across the university—biology, chemistry and physics on main campus, along with four Biomedical Graduate Education (BGE) departments. The program is led by Kathleen Maguire-Zeiss, Ph.D., professor and chair of neuroscience; Caleb McKinney, Ph.D., MPS, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine and assistant dean, graduate and postdoctoral training & development for BGE; and Ronda Rolfes, Ph.D., professor and director of graduate studies in the department of biology.

The IMSD’s approach reflects how “the biomedical sciences are moving beyond some of these very traditional departments and disciplinary breakdowns and are moving to be much more inclusive and integrative,” Rolfes says.

Supporting the whole student

The first cohort of four IMSD trainees will enroll this July, and will enter a program designed to offer an inclusive experience and reduce feelings of isolation. Research has shown how a sense of exclusion can perpetuate underrepresentation of minority groups and women in STEM fields.

IMSD leaders hope that the program’s focus on mentorship and professional development will help address those barriers to success and create a tight-knit cohort. IMSD trainees not only will have faculty mentors and participate in cross-disciplinary mentorship teams but also will have an opportunity to mentor undergraduate and master’s degree students. In addition, the scholars will support each other and build problem-solving skills through a program called POP (Power of Peers) Circles, an externally facilitated offering aimed at building resilience, accountability, and well-being.

During their training, IMSD participants will have experiential learning opportunities and will gain leadership, management, and communication skills. The program will provide financial assistance if needed, and will offer a range of workshops and support structures.

“We’re hoping to create a sense of belonging for the trainees, certainly within the community of scientists as the first circle, but then extending vertically,” Rolfes says. “We want to support students, especially those from underrepresented groups, even as first-year undergraduates, so that they can connect and imagine a world where they move through graduate education and beyond.”

Ultimately, the IMSD’s leaders say the program is a natural outgrowth of the university’s focus on creating a more inclusive environment and developing a diverse pipeline of talent for critically important fields.

“This training program exemplifies the Spirit of Georgetown, as our work is animated by our values. Community in diversity, academic excellence and cura personalis—educating the whole person—are at the heart of our work together,” Maguire-Zeiss says.

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