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Based in the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of Graduate Education, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Leadership Fellows program launched successful projects in 2021 to further inclusiveness across biological and biomedical science programs at UNC.

The Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Leadership Fellows program celebrated the completion of the first JEDI Leadership Fellows cohort with a number of successful projects launched in 2021 to foster the development of emerging leaders in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Graduate students and postdoctoral trainees from the biological and biomedical sciences across UNC-Chapel Hill were invited to participate.

Based in the UNC School of Medicine’s Office (SOM) of Graduate Education (OGE), the JEDI Leadership Fellows proposed new or expanded on-going projects to further inclusiveness across their programs and the university.

Team members Anna Parker, Mark Geisler, Chad Lloyd, CL Graves, PhD, Anandita Pal, PhD, and Sarah Yannarell, PhD, supported the DEI Portal Project (Proposed by Anna Parker), the WISHR Project (Proposed by CL Graves), and the INTRO Project (Proposed by Mark Geisler).

A one-stop-shop portal to organize the many DEI resources available to and serving graduate students across the University, DEI Portal Project, created a hub to help organize and create easy access and visibility.

“We hope this webpage will facilitate connectivity between DEI-focused committees, in which resources, advice, and institutional knowledge can be shared and maintained,” Parker said.

Advocating for gender-inclusive support for researchers, housed in the Adams School of Dentistry, the Women in Science and Healthcare Research (WISHR) Peer Support Initiative fosters wellness and belongingness to support advancement and serves research affiliated staff, faculty, postgraduate students, and postdoctoral scholars. Graves, noted that, “to date, we have received wide support and enthusiasm across levels and departments.”

Opportunities to experience research are limited and prospective future scientists from diverse groups may dismiss the idea of a scientific career before ever getting to experience it. The Introducing New Trainees to Research Opportunities (INTRO) Program seeks to reduce barriers for future scientists, to connect them with training opportunities, and to create paid research roles that help support students financially during the research experience.

The majority of labs surveyed indicated an interest in participating, and Geisler commented that he “was surprised to see the amount of support from the UNC community for the program, even in its early stage. It gives me hope we can enact real, lasting change here at UNC, and specifically in the research enterprise.”

Team members Danielle Williams, Oscar Arroyo, Juanita Limas, PhD, and Rachel (White) Walmer, PhD, supported the Admissions Diversity Advocate (ADA) and Graduate Admissions Project (Proposed by Danielle Williams and Oscar Arroyo). Recruitment and retention of students from historically excluded groups has become a visible priority, nationally and institutionally – including our Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP).

The current project was designed to analyze and address continued underrepresentation of students from historically excluded groups by incorporating the student voice in the admissions process, by creating the ADA program, to train current students to review and provide feedback and recommendations to admissions committees regarding applications from applicants from underrepresented groups.

Project co-founder, Oscar Arroyo, shares why he believes this work is so important, stating that, “current trainees are impacted by admissions decisions as newly admitted students go on to become our colleagues and coworkers; thus, we share an interest in the selection of applicants that can both succeed in the academic enterprise and contribute to the culture of DEI that we have cultivated as Tar Heels.”

Arroyo hopes to see this work continue, and believes that this is just the beginning, noting that, “further integration of graduate students into the admissions process is vital to creating a more equitable and inclusive environment here at UNC. The ADA program is one small step towards this goal, and we look forward to expanding the program in the coming years.”

Project co-founder Danielle Williams observed that, “the first cohort of ADA’s gained valuable insight into application review and simultaneously their voices were heard.” Additionally, Williams shared that she is “excited about future ADA cohorts’ involvement to foster more equity and inclusion throughout the admissions pipeline.”

In addition, the JEDI Leadership Fellows Program congratulates program members who recently graduated and were hired into their next roles, including Limas (research scientist at Eli Lilly and Company), Pal (innovation scientist at Beyond Meat), Yannarell (strain development scientist at Joyn Bio), and Walmer (postdoctoral research scholar at NC State University).

Finally, the JEDI Leadership Fellows program recognizes alumna and author Danielle Williams on her recently published wellness journal for graduate students, entitled The Mindful PhD Journal.

The upcoming cohort of the JEDI Leadership Fellows Program will be relaunching in September 2022, and applications are now open. Learn more and apply at: JEDI Leadership Fellows Application (deadline: September 22).