September 20, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
After several years of forward momentum in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), UofSC’s DEI efforts have reached a new level. Thanks to a $13.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Common Fund, public health/epidemiology professor Angela Liese and nursing professor Coretta Jenerette will collaborate with an interdisciplinary team* to launch the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program at UofSC.
“UofSC’s FIRST program is designed to recruit diverse early-stage faculty who are committed to inclusive excellence and whose work focuses on health disparities and equity,” Liese says. “We will support these individuals through mentorship, training and professional development activities tailored to meet their needs while also addressing institutional-level systems and barriers to ensure their success and well-being.”
This transformative award is the culmination of intentional effort by our leaders to embed inclusive excellence into our institutional fabric.
-Julian Williams, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
It started with a conversation. Then a series of conversations. From department meetings to the highest levels of leadership, faculty and staff across the university were talking about DEI – earnestly strategizing how to best improve the culture and support required to truly advance these areas.
Then changes started to happen. UofSC elevated the position of Chief Diversity Officer to Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and hired Julian Williams to take on the role.
Williams and other stakeholders established new positions, committees, training programs and courses. They conducted campus climate surveys and collected data. And they created action plans, including the UofSC Strategic Plan 2020, with two of its eight priorities incorporating DEI (i.e., assemble and cultivate a world-class faculty and staff; cultivate a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus culture).
“This transformative award is the culmination of intentional effort by our leaders to embed inclusive excellence into our institutional fabric,” Williams says. “Achieving this goal will require a diverse faculty that bring unique perspectives, lived experiences and ideas to their teaching and research.”
Now in its second year at NIH, FIRST funding has been awarded to only a handful of academic institutions. The program is unique because it goes beyond traditional methods (e.g., training/mentor programs, intensified minority recruitment) that generally function in isolation and fall short in addressing DEI-related challenges. Instead, FIRST works to transform academic communities into settings that embrace and expect DEI – into places where faculty can thrive and contribute to these efforts. The FIRST program promises to be a game changer for not only nursing and public health but also the broader university.
“We are using this initiative to enhance the infrastructure and create an environment that offers inclusive support and a sense of belonging that will improve everyone’s experience at UofSC,” Jenerette says. “Our hope is to expand the program beyond this initial cohort of public health and nursing faculty so that it becomes a sustained part of our university – both philosophically and culturally.”
UofSC’s successful selection to receive this grant can be credited to two important factors. The first is the complementary skill sets and overlapping commitment to DEI that Jenerette and Liese bring to the table. Jenerette is the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity at the College of Nursing, where she also conducts research to enhance self-care and family management among vulnerable populations. Liese specializes in diabetes epidemiology and public health nutrition, often with a focus on racial/ethnic disparities.
Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at UofSC is a central value for me, President Amiridis and our university’s larger leadership team. I am excited to see the tremendous impact this grant will have on increasing diversity in our university’s faculty ranks.
-Donna Arnett, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
The second factor? Unwavering and wholehearted support from UofSC leadership, from chairs/deans to the president. Their considerable efforts to improve DEI over the past few years extend to their immediate and long-term commitment to FIRST.
“Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina is a central value for me, President Amiridis and our university’s larger leadership team,” says Donna Arnett, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “I am appreciative of Professor Liese and Professor Jenerette’s leadership in bringing about change, and I am excited to see the tremendous impact this grant will have on increasing diversity in our university’s faculty ranks.”
*Additional team members include Susan Steck (Epidemiology; Faculty Development Co-Lead), Lucy Ingram (Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior), Pamela Gillam (Center for Applied Research and Evaluation; Evaluation Co-Lead), Tisha Felder (Nursing; Faculty Development Co-Lead), Gloria Boutte (Education; Associate Dean of Diversity Equity Inclusion), and Michelle Bryan (Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Education; Evaluation Co-Lead).
The NIH Common Fund’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program aims to implement and sustain cultures of inclusive excellence in the biomedical research community. “Inclusive excellence” refers to cultures that establish and sustain scientific environments that cultivate and benefit from a full range of talent and has the potential to be transformational for biomedical research at the awardee institutions and beyond. The UofSC FIRST program is supported by grant #U54CA272171.