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Recipients of NIH FIRST Program Awards Announced for FY 2021

October 19, 2021

I am pleased to share that the NIH Common Fund Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program announced its first award recipients on September 30.

FIRST aims to increase the representation of faculty from underrepresented groups in biomedical science. The program supports institutional efforts to hire diverse, early-career faculty cohorts and sustain cultures that benefit from the full range of scientific talent in the United States. FIRST is based on evidence that cluster hiring leads to more diverse, inclusive research environments.

Through FIRST, the NIH provided FY 2021 awards to seven institutions committed to improving diversity in the biomedical research enterprise.

Six institutions received awards to support faculty hiring clusters through the FIRST Faculty Cohort Program FOA (RFA-RM-20-022), and include the following:

Principal InvestigatorsInstitutionProject Title
1. August, Avery (contact) Kotlikoff, Michael I.Cornell UniversityCornell FIRST
2. Benn, Emma Katherine Tara (contact) Campbell, Kirk N. Nestler, Eric J. Richardson, Lynne D.Icahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNIH FIRST Cohort Cluster Hiring Initiative at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
3. Diez-Roux, Ana V. (contact) Gitlin, Laura N.Drexel UniversityCatalyzing Systemic Change at Drexel University to Support Diverse Faculty in Health Disparities Research
4. Vickers, Selwyn M. (contact) Durant, Raegan Winston Fouad, Mona N. Yates, ClaytonUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamUAB/Tuskegee Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (UAB/TU FIRST) Partnership (NIH U54)
5. Wong, Frank Y. (contact) Naar, SylvieFlorida State UniversityFostering Institutional Resources for Science Transformation: The FLORIDA-FIRST Health-Science Brigade
6. Zuniga De Nuncio, Maria Luisa (contact) Reed, Mark BrianSan Diego State UniversitySDSU FUERTE: Faculty United towards Excellence in Research and Transformational Engagement

In addition, funding for the FIRST Coordination and Evaluation Center FOA (RFA-RM-21-019) will help assess the impact of institutional culture change strategies and other innovative approaches implemented at FIRST Cohort sites.

Principal InvestigatorsInstitutionProject Title
1. Ofili, Elizabeth O. (contact) Rivers, Brian M.Morehouse School of MedicineFIRST Coordination and Evaluation Center to Promote Inclusive Excellence

FIRST: Strengthening Faculty Diversity and Institutional Cultures

The six FIRST Cohort award recipients proposed a range of approaches to hire and support diverse faculty, including multi-level mentoring, sponsorship, and professional development opportunities. Their efforts are embedded within institutions dedicated to implementing integrated, systems-level approaches for sustainable culture change.

FIRST program development began in 2018, in part, through COSWD Office efforts. FIRST is managed in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute; the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The program’s estimated budget is $241 million over nine years, pending the availability of funds. FIRST includes three rounds of funding for the FIRST Cohort RFA in FY2021, FY2022, and FY2023; the NIH already announced two of the funding opportunities.

Join the NIH Common Fund listserv or subscribe to the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts to be notified of the final funding announcement.

Upcoming Events: Opportunities to Learn More About the Science of Faculty Cohort Hiring

Please save the date for the December Scientific Workforce Diversity Seminar Series (SWDSS), “Achieving Equity in Faculty Hiring: Pros and Cons of Cohort Recruitment,” on December 8, 2021, from 1:00–2:00 p.m. EST. This seminar will help sustain the interest in cohort recruitment and momentum generated by the initial FIRST awards.

The seminar will also set the stage for a far-reaching February 2022 workshop highlighting the science behind and the outcomes from initiatives that have attempted to hire cohorts of scientists to enhance diversity and diverse perspectives. The workshop aims to acquaint the scientific community with faculty cohort programs that have successfully enhanced diversity both within and outside of NIH. The two-day virtual event—consisting of a half-day on each day—will include didactic presentations and break-out groups to allow participants to interact, discuss key topics, and ask questions.

Dr. Bernard’s Reflections

I am excited to see the FIRST program come to fruition. We expect this pioneering program to transform institutional cultures across the country and significantly impact scientific workforce diversity throughout the biomedical research enterprise. On behalf of the COSWD Office, I congratulate each award recipient, and I look forward to sharing their progress.