Diverse perspectives are essential to CEED’s vision to conduct high-quality, translational research centered on the needs of impacted NJ communities. During the next grant period, we will continue to increase the diversity of our Center’s researchers, trainees, and staff to reflect the population of NJ, one of the most diverse states. We strive to increase participation of individuals who are recognized as nationally underrepresented in Center activities. The CEED Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee, comprised of faculty, staff, trainees, and representatives from CEED administration, Career Development, the PPP, the Scientific Research Cores, CEC, and the Community Advisory Board (CAB), sets goals, implements programs, and monitors progress. T. Roepke, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and CEED Ombudsperson, chairs the D&I Committee.
Among current faculty, 17% are from diverse backgrounds (per NIH definition) and 36% identify as female or nonbinary. As we continue to expand diversity among CEED faculty, we will leverage plans at the Schools of Public Health (H. Zarbl) and Pharmacy (D. Laskin) to hire 6 new environmental health faculty. In 2022, Dr. Cedeno Laurent joined CEED through the Rutgers Minority Scholar Program, and in 2023, we were awarded a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship that fast tracks a scientist from an underrepresented minority background from a 2-year postdoc to a tenure-track faculty position. In 2021, CEED member Z. Rivera-Núñez was recruited to a tenure-track position through a NIEHS diversity supplement. We will continue to capitalize on university and NIH programs to improve faculty diversity. Key to attracting and supporting investigators from diverse backgrounds is the continued cultivation of an institutional culture that values and respects diversity. To set goals for improvement, the D&I committee will conduct periodic surveys of CEED members, staff, trainees, and community partners to assess the D&I culture within the Center and address concerns about education, training, and changing practices.
One of CEED’s strengths is that our 59 members represent 34 departments across 15 schools/institutes at Rutgers and 3 other NJ universities and conduct environmental health research across the full translational spectrum (23% have clinical training). Going forward, we will engage new disciplines (e.g., engineering and communications) to collaboratively develop innovative environmental health interventions. We will continue to prioritize diversity in hiring, promote visibility of early career faculty, postdocs, and trainees through first authorships on peer-reviewed publications and presentations at national/international scientific meetings. We support trainees at all career stages through grant writing workshops, mentoring teams, and skills development (communication, community engagement, grants management).
Our 15-member Community Advisory Board (CAB) is 60% female and 53% people of color, reflecting NJ’s diversity. They represent statewide (n=5) and local organizations (n=6), state government (n=2), and regional academic institutions (n=2). Efforts to increase capacity of community partners to engage in research are integrated into the PPP and the TRSC, which will include co-development of community grant proposals with CEC, and participation of community partners in pilot project reviews. We will expand representation of rural, southern NJ communities with the planned addition of two new CAB members.
We currently enhance existing collaborations with faculty at the minority-serving Rutgers Newark campus to develop opportunities to engage diverse students in environmental health research. We participate in numerous Rutgers pathway programs that engage trainees from underrepresented backgrounds. Programs range from undergraduate (e.g., Louis Stokes Minority Alliance Program) through postdoc fellowships (e.g., INSPIRE). Each summer, CEED hosts interns from minority backgrounds in the Research Intensive Summer Experience (RISE) program. We provide high school students from diverse backgrounds with scholarships to our summer Toxicology, Health, and Environmental Disease (THED) program. One-third of trainees in the Toxicology graduate program are from underrepresented backgrounds; we seek to replicate these successes across CEED.