SRIP Aims for Long Term Diversity in the SOM

By Melissa Maki

In keeping with its mission to facilitate diversity, the University of Virginia recently hired a director of graduate student diversity programs in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.

U.Va.’s School of Medicine (SOM) has been working since the early nineties to diversify its graduate student population with the help of a unique Summer Research Internship Program (SRIP).

The SRIP offers undergraduate students an exceptional opportunity for experiential learning in the field of biomedical research.  The program targets underrepresented minority students but is open to students of all backgrounds. 

Interns are selected through a competitive application process.  The program includes a hands-on research component that students complete with one-on-one mentoring from a faculty member. 

Kim Wiggins, past SRIP participant and graduate student in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Genetics, commented “The SRIP program was a great program in that it exposed me to the many other types of research being conducted here at the university. All of the interactions that I had with faculty and students were positive and that played a major role in why I chose to come here for graduate school.”

Joel Hockensmith, Director of the SRIP, believes faculty mentoring makes a difference for students.  “There are faculty who contribute their time every summer as mentors for young scientists and it is these mentor: student relationships that encourage young people to continue their careers in science,” he said.

The SRIP “…has contributed significantly to the diversity of our biomedical graduate programs with more than 20% of participants applying to U.Va. and about half of those matriculating,” he said.  Hockensmith noted that minority enrollment was only about 2-3% in the early 1990s and that “During the last five years, minority graduate enrollment has averaged about 14% of our total graduate population with a peak of 22% for the 2005-2006 academic year.”