ASHG Engages Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Advance Equity and Inclusion in Genomics Research and Workforce

Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD, and ASHG President Bruce Gelb, MD
Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD, and ASHG President Bruce Gelb, MD

As the leading professional scientific membership organization for human genetics and genomics researchers, ASHG convened its first-ever Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Partnership Summit. This Summit, which is a key activity of the ASHG Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force Action Plan FY2021-2024, aimed to bring together and meaningfully engage faculty, administrators, students, funders, and other supporters connected to HBCUs. The event strengthens the Society’s collaborative efforts in pursuit of our vision that “People everywhere realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research.”

On March 7 and 8, ASHG welcomed 16 participants across various career stages, including senior faculty, trainees, early/mid-career researchers, to Rockville, MD to take part in the Summit. This day and a half event began with an evening networking dinner for attendees to become acquainted with one another and with ASHG volunteer leadership and staff.  To kick off the full-day Summit agenda, ASHG President Bruce Gelb, MD welcomed everyone and provided opening remarks. The morning session offered short presentations introducing the Society, its mission and vision, as well as highlighting the integration and cross-cutting efforts of diversity, equity, and inclusion within ASHG. The afternoon session included a facilitated discussion about the challenges experienced or observed in human genetics and genomics in HBCU settings as well as potential opportunities that participants wish to see available for HBCUs.

The primary themes that emerged through these discussions included: (1) Funding and Capacity and (2) Career Pathways and Workforce. As it relates to funding, participants noted how historic and current underfunding of HBCUs are a significant challenge, and it impacts faculty recruitment, infrastructure, and research productivity. Moreover, participants emphasized the challenge, yet priority, of providing consistent and supportive mentorship to help students maximize their full potential and future career pathways.

Through these conversations, participants highlighted a few key opportunities which included involving more HBCUs in human genetics and genomics research, perhaps creating a consortium; promoting HBCUs strengths and accomplishments in research and workforce to beget more funding opportunities; and creating forums that provide connection for HBCU researchers and trainees in genomics.

Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Tennessee Health Science Center

“The HBCU Partnership Summit was a unique and important opportunity to bring together this community of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and ASHG. Attendees from across the country contributed to an honest, impactful, and productive conversation. I am proud to have participated in this event, as one of my first activities as the new Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, and I look forward to continuing the great work of the Task Force and Society.”
Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD


The event concluded with reflections and closing remarks from both Dr. Gelb and Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD, the new ASHG Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force Chair. Dr. Starlard-Davenport stated this Summit “helped {her} learn more about the vast and diverse experiences in the human genomics workforce as well as research that is underway at HBCUs.” The Summit participants acknowledged the value of coming together and applauded ASHG for hosting this convening.


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