|Togo West (l), former secretary of the Army and Veterans Affairs, addresses participants during the INRO 10-year anniversary celebration. At right, INRO participant Carlos Castrodad-Rodriguez of the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey asks a question during a scientific talk.
“Take a look at those around you; these will be your future colleagues.” That was only one of many suggestions Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research, gave the 10th class of NIAID’s diversity program—Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO). The 2012 class included 20 minority students from across the country selected to visit NIAID to learn about its research portfolio and training opportunities.
The 10th anniversary celebration also included former participants, one for every year of INRO, who came to inspire and offer advice to the students and to current NIAID trainees. Juliana Lewis, part of the first INRO class in 2003, agreed with Gottesman: “You’re not just here for the labs, but you are also here to build a scientific community for yourself [that] you can take with you no matter where you go.” She is finishing her doctoral dissertation at Tufts University-Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences and is considering a postdoc traineeship at NIH.
According to INRO founder Dr. Wendy Fibison, associate director of NIAID’s Office of Training and Diversity, “These lasting relationships are the hallmark of the program’s success.” The program has a mantra, “Once an INRO, always an INRO.” Fibison believes the network she is building is just as important as the science in engaging young minority students to stay in STEM fields.
NIAID has had a long-standing commitment to address the lack of minorities in biomedical research. In keeping with that commitment, Fibison created INRO to fit the needs of the institute’s intramural program. Over 10 years, she recruited the best students she could find and enlisted the support of senior investigators willing to accept the responsibility of mentoring junior minority students.
More than 200 students have participated in INRO since its inception. Of those, 50 percent have returned to NIAID for a traineeship and most continue to embrace research careers.
Although the past 10 years have been successful, there is more work to be done. Some ethnic populations continue to be dramatically underrepresented in biomedical research. Their representation within NIAID labs and among the senior leadership is disproportionate to the U.S. population. The next 10 years are promising, says Fibison, but only if programs such as INRO are fully supported. “Until we have appropriately diverse research staff in our labs, we must continue to make INRO and other programs like it a priority,” she said.
Keynote speaker Togo West, former secretary of the Army and Veterans Affairs, capped the anniversary with a talk about some of America’s trailblazing historical figures. His comments illustrated some qualities of a leader. “You teach the life you live,” he concluded.