SMRB Accepts Working Group Report on Pre-college Engagement in Biomedical Science

On December 15, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) unanimously approved the Report of the SMRB Working Group on Pre-college Engagement in Biomedical Science. Chaired by Clyde Yancy, Northwestern University, the working group was charged by NIH director Francis Collins “to recommend ways to optimize NIH’s pre-college programs and initiatives that both align with the NIH mission and ensure a continued pipeline of biomedical science students and professionals.” The group released preliminary findings at its October meeting (see Update, October 28, 2014).

As outlined in Yancy’s presentation to the Board, the report included the following general findings:

  • Alarming trends suggest that the current and rising scientific workforce may not be fully prepared to address the increasingly complex nature of biomedical research, nor reflect the diversity of students seeking careers in relevant fields.
  • Education disparities harm millions of students, especially minority and poor students. There is an uneven distribution of well-trained science teachers and resources and lower academic and career expectations for under-represented minority students.
  • These issues will need to be addressed nationally by political and community leaders, policy makers and other decision makers.

The Working Group’s report included an overarching recommendation: the NIH should establish “a transformative body with strong galvanizing leadership and with representation of all relevant NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices and similarly committed non-NIH stakeholders.” This multi-disciplinary body should make recommendations to the Office of the NIH director regarding the development and oversight of the following activities:

  • Development of a uniform reporting template of NIH sponsored pre-college STEM programs;
  • Creation and maintenance of an inventory for all programs;
  • Development of optimum processes for the functionality of all current and planned programs;
  • Coordination of these programs, including synergy with other Federally supported pre-college STEM activities; and
  • Development of evaluative criteria to gauge the success of these programs.

The working group also recommended next steps for the NIH to fulfill the recommendations, which include focusing its pre-college efforts on the most pressing workforce needs, coordinating and cultivating effective programs and approaches, and leveraging the strengths of the public and private sectors.

The report includes six key findings related to the NIH’s STEM program:

  1. There are limited opportunities for under-represented minority and low socioeconomic status students to engage in biomedical science education. The working group recommended that the NIH closely monitor the outcomes of NIH’s nascent undergraduate under-represented minority recruitment, mentoring and training programs [National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD)] to determine whether these strategies could also be employed with middle and high school students and their teachers (see Update, November 2, 2014).
  2. A broadening of workforce categories is important to convey to pre-college youth who might consider careers in biomedicine. Concurring with the Advisory Committee to the Director Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group, the SMRB “also feels that the cross-disciplinary nature of innovative biomedical science and the wide range of current and future career options available to students should be emphasized and promoted (see Update, June 25, 2012).
  3. NIH has a large portfolio of pre-college STEM activities and should seek to streamline and enhance effectiveness through increased coordination.
  4. There are no standard measures of success for the existing NIH pre-college STEM activities. A more rigorous evaluation process may strengthen all activities and produce new best practices.
  5. There is untapped potential of NIH’s research community.
  6. There are many opportunities to partner with other entities committed to pre-college STEM outreach.

NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Hannah Valantine thanked Yancy and the working group for the report, which she indicated “so clearly resonates” with the charge of her office. Valantine emphasized the need for “full attention to coordination, evaluation, and ultimately accountability for the program.” She stressed that the next steps will be up to Collins, and noted that there are many actionable items in the report.

The videocast is available here.

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