Written by Gaoyuan Liu
A lack of diversity jeopardizes our ability to carry out the NIH mission because innovation and problem solving require diverse perspectives.”
– NIH Director Francis S. Collins.
Following an era of continually expanding diversity in the United States population , the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has taken strides to promote representation for minorities in the biomedical research workforce. The NIH has long acknowledged that fostering a diverse workforce allows for the nation’s “most creative minds to contribute to realizing our national research and health goals.” A study  conducted on the racial disparity in grant awards (2011) revealed a compelling need for new strategies to advance equal opportunities for scientists across all demographic groups.
In response to recommendations defined in a 2012 report by the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) and the Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce (WGDBRW), the NIH established the “Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce” program.
The five-year program, now also referred to as the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC), seeks to understand and address factors (institutional, social, individual) that guide minority success starting from the undergraduate level and onwards through long-term career paths. The DPC continues to develop, implement, and evaluate approaches to research training and mentoring for individuals of underrepresented backgrounds, with the ultimate goal of preparing said individuals for success and enhancing diversity in the biomedical research workforce.
The DPC is managed by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and is financed by the NIH Common Fund, which provides support for trans-NIH initiatives that target key roadblocks in scientific progress. In 2014, the NIH announced the award of $31 million for a total of twelve selected institutions as part of the “Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce” program. These twelve awardees are split into three collaborative branches:
- “National Research Mentoring Network” (NRMN)
- “Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity” (BUILD)
- “Coordination and Evaluation Center” (CEC)
Together, these three highly-integrated initiatives and their respective institutions form the Diversity Program Consortium.
The National Research Mentoring Network, which acts as a consortium itself, currently engages over one hundred committed partner organizations and private/public universities. Working with these partners, as well as the institutions in the BUILD program, NRMN strives to develop a national network of mentors and mentees from all biomedical disciplines. NRMN’s guiding purpose is to enhance the ability of mentees to attain NIH funding and establish standards and metrics for effective mentorship in collaboration with the CEC. Through this network, NRMN offers mentorship opportunities, professional development, networking, and resources for undergraduate students and those early in their careers. NRMN’s services incorporate a web-based mentor networking platform, in-person or online mentor training sessions, as well as professional development activities (such as grant-writing workshops, mock study sections, etc.). NRMN’s administrative headquarters is located at Boston College, the initial awardee institution.
The Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity initiative is composed of ten interconnected undergraduate institutions, each of which is tasked with discovering and implementing approaches to attract, train, and retain underrepresented groups in biomedical research. Institutions in the BUILD initiative work together to expand research training opportunities for students and develop quantitative means of evaluating said efforts in collaboration with the CEC. BUILD’s goal is to directly broaden the potential pool of participating trainees as well as invest in faculty and staff development, thus implementing new models for growth simultaneously in the student, faculty, and institutional levels. The ten partnered sites, which cover a wide-ranging area throughout the nation, work with a vast array of students but are united by the flexibility to innovate through the BUILD initiative (California State University Long Beach | California State University Northridge | Morgan State University | Portland State University | San Francisco State University | University of Alaska Fairbanks | University of Detroit Mercy | University of Maryland Baltimore County | University of Texas El Paso | and Xavier University) .
The Coordination and Evaluation Center, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, implements the DPC’s vision through administrative, data coordinative, and evaluative measures. The CEC is primarily responsible for evaluating the impact of practices at each respective DPC institution, as well as facilitating interaction between BUILD and NRMN. In coordinating the DPC institutions, the CEC supports consortium-wide working groups, manages communications between DPC sites, plans and develops publications, manages the DPC website, and organizes the annual DPC-wide meeting. On the evaluation side, the CEC collaborates with BUILD and NRMN to design site-specific assessment strategies, identifying key indicators of success and metrics for data collection. With collected data and standardized measurements of success in the short/long term, the CEC produces evaluations of each of the other DPC initiatives and reviews the impact of implemented approaches.
Functioning under a unified vision, NRMN, BUILD, and the CEC develop, implement, evaluate, and refine their approaches for the goal of cultivating diversity in the biomedical research workforce. The integration of the three separate initiatives, each of which synergistically build on one another, allows for specialization among individual institutions while also creating a network of resources available in pursuit of DPC objectives.
 For details on individual BUILD institutions, see https://diversityprogramconsortium.org/pages/build