Dr. Cynthia Warrick, the first female president of Stillman College, has made it her mission to connect undergraduates at the historically Black institution to graduate programs in health services research (HSR) and other biomedical disciplines. In fall 2021, she recorded reflections about her experience to date as part of an AcademyHealth video series in which speakers told their personal stories of driving positive change in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the HSR workforce.

In order to connect students to fields like HSR early on in the education and career pathway, Dr. Warrick prioritizes being proactive in providing the exposure and opportunities required to broaden their perspective on what is possible. See more in her 3-minute video and read on to learn about the BioGradMatch initiative for undergraduates—and an opportunity for graduate programs to get involved.

We reconnected with Dr. Warrick a year later to learn about her latest effort at Stillman.

Since she recorded this video, Dr. Warrick and Stillman College have partnered with Admit Academy to pilot the BioGradMatch program, designed to match students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to biomedical and health sciences graduate programs. The pilot was supported by a National Institutes of Health Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant.

The program matches each student with three graduate programs based on their interests, geographic location, and other criteria. The pilot matched 20 Stillman College students with seven graduate programs in various biomedical fields, providing them with exposure to programs that are actively working to include more students of color. Even undergraduates who decide to major in biology, chemistry, psychology, and other relevant fields are often unaware of the full universe of graduate programs out there for which they would be eligible—and they rarely know about the types of grad programs that are funded.

Students also are unaware of how the admissions process for such graduate programs differ from that of undergraduate programs. Applicants need a strong understanding of each program to which they apply, and most admissions processes require interviews. The BioGradMatch program connects participating students with coaches (graduate students in those programs—ideally students of color) who meet with them to discuss their goals and counsel them about their program options and the admissions process. This model instills in participating students the knowledge that they are wanted and can excel in these careers, contributing to a more inclusive environment for those fields and ultimately supporting the goal of greater diversity in the biomedical sciences.

In the next phase of the program, Dr. Warrick is seeking 23 additional graduate programs to join the project, which would benefit from connecting with highly motivated, competitive students of color who would otherwise be unaware of their program. This will bring the program to a total of 30 graduate programs serving the 150 students from across 23 HBCUs participating in 2023. Graduate programs interested in getting involved should reach out directly to Dr. Warrick at cwarrick@stillman.edu.

Beyond exploring participation in the BioGradMatch program, Dr. Warrick recommends a variety of additional steps graduate programs might take to facilitate success for students of color:

  • Some programs have already stopped requiring the GRE for admission—a step others may want to consider. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a barrier to diversity and inclusion, as the costs of test fees and preparation materials and courses can be prohibitive.
  • Graduate programs could do more to set applicants up for success. Helpful information to provide includes statistics about how many students work during their program, how many classes they take concurrently, their research commitments—and the academic outcomes correlated with these variables.
  • Programs should also identify the necessary resources to support students beyond financial aid (which largely consists of loans for graduate and professional programs) that doesn’t cover full costs, especially for students who have children and/or other people to support while continuing their education.
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