UC San Diego
JoAnn Trejo, PhD, MBA (left) and María Elena Martinez, PhD (right) are the co-principal investigators for the new UC San Diego FIRST Program. Photo credit: UCSD

UC San Diego is the recipient of a five-year, $16 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to recruit 12 diverse, early-career research faculty in the biomedical sciences, it was announced Tuesday.

The grant from the NIH’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation Program is the largest ever received by UCSD to enhance faculty diversity. UCSD is the only UC institution to receive FIRST Cohort funding.

The NIH identified the lack of “mentoring, guidance in career development, access to professional networks and integration into the fabric of the institution” as contributing factors to the disproportionately low numbers of underrepresented faculty and women in the biomedical workforce.

Led by JoAnn Trejo, UCSD professor of pharmacology, and Maraa Elena Martinez, professor of public health, the program is intended to “transform institutional culture towards inclusive excellence by hiring a diverse cohort of biomedical scientists in four research disciplines — cancer, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases/immunology and neurosciences,” a university statement reads.

“UC San Diego is among the most enriched biomedical research environments in the world but lacks faculty diversity and effective programming to enhance inclusive excellence similar to other research-intensive institutions,” Trejo said. “The interdisciplinary nature of our four chosen research clusters and the strength of existing cross-campus faculty collaborations between health sciences, biological sciences, engineering, physical sciences and social sciences will ensure that the FIRST Program has an impact on the entire biomedical research enterprise across the university.”

The funding will also begin — and strengthen existing — programs developed by UCSD’s Office of Faculty Affairs to enhance faculty recruitment, retention, success and inclusion.

“The FIRST Program is the expansion of a pilot initiative to recruit and hire a cluster of underrepresented faculty in the health sciences,” Martinez said. “The introduction of the cohort model into our hiring and onboarding efforts enables us to foster a supportive community for faculty hired through the FIRST Program. Our goal is to enhance the faculty member’s career development, which will be the key to their long-term success at UC San Diego.”

The FIRST Program funding arrives on the heels of two other university- wide initiatives that focus on enhancing faculty diversity. UC San Diego recently received $1 million in grants through the University of California’s Advancing Faculty Diversity Program with the intent to increase faculty diversity, spur innovative research and infuse culture into the curriculum.

–City News Service