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School of Medicine and Graduate School Host Science and Society Symposium

As each year passes, our society becomes increasingly enriched by the unique ideas and perspectives of individuals from different backgrounds and life experiences. In the academic community, this diversity of experience results in novel ideas and theories that ultimately propel academia forward and benefit society as a whole. To celebrate this national progression, the School of Medicine joined forces with the Graduate School to present the first annual Science and Society Symposium.

The interdisciplinary Science and Society symposium was designed to highlight the work of scientists that contribute either to diversity within the scientific community or are working in innovative ways to promote diversity in biomedical fields through research, outreach, leadership, policy, and other forms of academic pursuit. For the inaugural event, the symposium focused on the issue of increasing diversity in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) workforce. This issue has been discussed nationally for decades and is currently a top priority for several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. With this national focus in mind, Duke invited Dr. Clifford W. Houston (Associate Vice President for Educational Outreach; Herman Barnett Distinguished Endowed Professor in Microbiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch) to deliver the keynote address at the 2012 symposium.

Dr. Houston has served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Education in the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as the past-president of the American Society for Microbiology, and on the External Advisory Council for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences division of the National Institutes of Health. He currently serves as the Chairman of ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students), the largest professional conference for underrepresented minority biomedical and behavioral students, and as a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Dr. Houston’s national leadership and expertise in discussions surrounding diversity in STEM fields made him well positioned to share his remarks with the students, faculty, and staff from the Duke community and surrounding institutions that attended the event.

Dr. Houston’s seminar topic was “The Benefits of Preparing an Innovative and Diverse Scientific Workforce: Perspectives from NIH, NASA and ASM.” In his view, the key to increasing diversity in the STEM workforce is through the early implementation of K-12 educational interventions. He highlighted the importance of engaging students in the sciences throughout their earliest educational experiences, and also discussed the importance of matching students with solid mentors that can make STEM fields exciting and relatable to the young mind. In addition to Dr. Houston’s seminar, several round-table discussions were held with faculty and campus leaders to showcase offices and programs around campus that are currently doing work related to diversity in the sciences. A reception and a dinner rounded out the event.

Overall, the first Science and Society Symposium promoted interdisciplinary dialogue on the benefits of increasing diversity in the scientific community and raised awareness for the many diversity initiatives that currently exist at Duke. We look forward to bringing a variety of interesting and insightful speakers to the symposium in future years!

—Sherilynn Black, Ph.D., Director, Office of Biomedical Graduate Diversity