Public-private partnerships key to equality and equity in research
August 31, 2023By Victoria Brun
Mary Ellen Hackett
Manager, Communications Office
The Frederick National Laboratory’s partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) came into focus at the National Institutes of Health’s Collaborative Model for Building Equality and Equity in Research Conference in July. FNL Partnership Development Office Director Maggie Scully, Ph.D. highlighted the laboratory’s experience during the session “Building Public–Private Partnerships.”
“As the only national laboratory exclusively devoted to biomedical research, health equity is built into our mission,” Scully said. “The NIH event enabled us to connect with academic, industry and government stakeholders designing initiatives and collaborations that promote equity.”
The conference shared successes and best practices for conducting collaborative research with HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.
Opportunities with FNL
Scully described how FNL has mentored student trainees from Morehouse School of Medicine and welcomed postdoctoral fellows from Howard University. The FNL also hosted a group of Bowie State University students this summer for a week-long intensive look into biomedical and data science research as part of the school’s Summer Research Pipeline Program (SRPP).
Another opportunity for HBCUs to get support from the FNL and other federal laboratories is through the Federal Laboratory Education Accelerator (FLEX) program, Scully said. FLEX connects universities with federal laboratories to support technology transfer education. To date, 20 federal labs and 10 universities have joined.
Scully also noted that the FNL supports Black In Cancer, a UK-based organization, which will hold its first U.S. conference in early 2024. Black In Cancer provides recognition, networking, and mentorship to Black students and scientists working in cancer.
Building public–private partnerships
Other panel participants highlighted additional opportunities for engaging HBCUs. Dina N. Paltoo, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Tamara Terry, Ph.D., of the Research Triangle Institute discussed how their institutions partner with HBCUs to improve community engagement and minority representation in research.
The HBCU representatives on the panel—Huan Xie, Ph.D., of Texas Southern University and MaryBeth M. Sullivan of Hampton University’s Cancer Proton Therapy Institute—noted challenges facing HBCUs, such as resource constraints, but they focused on their institutions’ cutting-edge capabilities, describing how they are transforming from “hidden gems” into research hubs.
Xie announced that Texas Southern University was selected to participate in the Chemical Biology Consortium, the drug discovery network in the National Cancer Institute’s Experimental Therapeutics (NExT) Program, administered by FNL. Texas Southern is the first and currently only HBCU selected for the award.
Panel participants highlighted how partnerships between HBCUs and other institutions are mutually beneficial, but emphasized all parties need to make themselves available for the partnerships to succeed. Scully noted that this can be challenging for HBCUs, where faculty and staff are pulled in multiple directions. Therefore, she stressed that it is critical for institutions such as the FNL to engage these groups. Scully’s team includes a dedicated HBCU and minority-serving institutions manager, Crystal Canja.
“Be bold,” said Terry, a phrase that was echoed several times throughout the day.
The FNL was also represented in the conference exhibit hall. The team met with HBCU representatives and others in the research space and connected with students who ventured across from the nearby NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair.
Scully said one of the highlights was an encounter with a cohort of students and professors from the SRPP at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T).
“The event highlighted how powerful it is to share, model and evaluate programs that engage minority communities,” said Scully. “The cherry on the top was running into NCA&T students and seeing first-hand how such models are directly impacting the future STEM workforce.”