Background

There is growing concern within the research community with regard to the inadequacy of training of future faculty, and recognition of the benefits of, and need for, diversity. For a typical biomedical postdoctoral scientist wishing to pursue an academic career, the focus on research output and associated metrics (e.g. h-index) has become intense. Research dollars from federal sources and other agencies are increasingly scarce and highly competitive. As such, faculty at research-intensive institutions are under a great deal of pressure to have members of their research labs focus solely on research. However, many postdoctoral scientists desire to additionally have a substantive teaching experience. The Training Research Educators in Minnesota (TREM) IRACDA program will enable top early career postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences to have a balanced training in research and teaching at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

Minnesota is not known nationally for its highly ethnic population. However, Minnesota contains strong Native American populations, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul have a high ethnic mix, primarily due to a wave of immigration in the 1990s and 2000s. The major ethnic groups are Latino, Somali and Hmong.

•     Minnesota’s Latino population has increased from 54,000 in 1990 to 175,000 in 2004.

•     Minnesota’s African population has increased from 5,000 in 1990 to 43,000 in 2002, 9,000 of whom arrived between 2000 and 2002.

•     30,000 Hmong live in St. Paul making this the largest urban population of Hmong in the world.

[Source: Foundation, T.M. Immigration in Minnesota: Discovering Common Ground. 1-16 (2004)]

The children of these immigrants, many of whom are native born U.S. citizens or naturalized, are now young adults. Thus, Minnesota has the opportunity to significantly diversify its workforce in the next two decades. The goal of increasing diversity within the U of M community is a cornerstone of President Kaler’s vision. In his 2011 inaugural speech he made six commitments, one of which was “leading a university that understands that diversity is critical to achieving excellence”. In line with this vision, the TREM program matches the U of M with partner 2-year community colleges that have a strong background in attracting diverse students underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. We are partnering with three community colleges that serve ethnic and low income communities in distinct geographical regions of the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) lies in downtown Minneapolis. Half of MCTC’s students are racial or ethnic minorities, and much of the student body is composed of low income, first-generation college students. North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) is located in the northern suburb of Brooklyn Park and also serves a diverse student body. In particular, nearly two-thirds of NHCC students are first-generation college students. Normandale Community College (NCC) is located in the southern suburb of Bloomington. A quarter of the NCC student body is composed of racial and ethnic minorities, with particularly strong ties to the Latino population of the Twin Cities: 9% of the student body is Hispanic. The U of M already has strong ties with all three community colleges and works with STEM students from these colleges to transfer credits and gain admission to 4-year degree programs through the Academic Health Center, the School of Pharmacy, the College of Science and Engineering, and the College of Biological Sciences. However, with little access to cutting edge research, community colleges struggle to keep up with rapid developments in the biosciences, and adequately prepare students for successful transfer to 4-year degree programs. This threatens to increase the achievement gap, disillusioning students and reducing their ability to succeed. Over the past three academic years, the TREM Program Director has been working towards an even stronger U of M-MCTC-NHCC-NCC partnership to expose underrepresented (and, by default, other) students to research. For the State of Minnesota, the ultimate payoff is to see the students of MCTC, NHCC, and NCC become the next generation of leaders within the vibrant biomedical community of Minnesota.