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21st Century Scholars Program

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The 21st Century Scholars Program promotes ongoing awareness of scientific workforce diversity in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) extramural research program. The program builds a self-reinforcing culture of mentoring and support at NIH and promotes awareness of the science of scientific workforce diversity. The Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) sponsors the program, which was initiated in 2021.

The 21st Century Scholars Program uses the emerging practice of engaging cohort models to foster an inclusive workplace climate. Evidence suggests this approach can improve recruitment and retention of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including those from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research. This is done, in part, by promoting connection and collaboration among cohort members. The program is conducted virtually, allowing NIH staff from around the country to participate. Literature suggests that virtual formats can enhance meeting access, diversity, and climate.

Mentors chosen for the program are seasoned, experienced NIH scientific extramural staff who empower cohorts through mentoring sessions and intellectual exchanges that develop professional skills and explore scientific workforce diversity challenges. Cohorts are newer NIH extramural scientific staff (in their extramural role for three years or less). Selection as a participant can be a precursor to NIH leadership training opportunities designed for individuals in later career stages, such as the Cement Extramural Leadership Institute (CELI).

Applications for the FY23 cohort are now closed. Learn more about eligibility requirements or receive notification of future application cycles.

Defining Characteristics

  • Engages participants in a six-month program with two distinct levels of engagement: cohort and personal mentoring.
  • Establishes learning pathways that have both theoretical and praxis components.
  • Provides broad, hands-on experience to work collaboratively with common NIH processes, such as planning workshops and other projects to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA).
  • Enables participants to contribute to ongoing COSWD and NIH-wide DEIA initiatives.
  • Addresses three strategic COSWD approaches: build the evidence, disseminate the evidence, act on the evidence.

Program Advisory Committee

The 21st Century Scholars Program Advisory Committee includes representatives from the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and InclusionOffice of Human ResourcesDiversity Catalysts; former 21st Century Scholars Program mentors; and employee resource groups. The Advisory Committee meets regularly to review and discuss program components, eligibility and selection requirements, and evaluation measures.

Components of the Program

  • Fostering Cohort Engagement: A monthly Journal Club to discuss select articles.
  • Building Mentoring Pods: Monthly meetings to discuss Journal Club assignments, implications for professional and personal growth, and more.
  • Reducing Isolation and Building Community: Emphasizes building professional networks, connections with NIH offices, and other COSWD outreach activities.
  • Enhancing Work Skills: The COSWD Challenge, a team-based activity focused on projects such as developing new data collection systems or programs that could support NIH’s DEIA efforts.

Questions? Please contact program staff at

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