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DEPARTMENT ACTIVELY PROMOTES BIOSTATISTICS FOR UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITY GROUPS

by Louise Ryan

 

Every June since 1994, the Department of Biostatistics has been running the "Summer Program in Biostatistics". The program, originally funded by NIEHS, aims to provide an interesting and informative introduction to Biostatistics and public health research for undergraduate mathematics majors from underrepresented minority groups. This year, we have eight outstanding students from the University of Puerto Rico, Morehouse, Albany State, LeMoyne-Owen, Bennett, Howard, Hampton, and the Harvard-Maine Program for Children. The program includes an introductory course in Biostatistics, a GRE workshop, lectures from HSPH faculty members about interesting public health research problems, and group projects. A variety of social activities, such as hiking, rollerblading, concerts and dinners, provide opportunities to meet with students and faculty from the Department. Judging from the evaluations that the students complete each year, the program has been highly successful in encouraging these students to think about graduate school and their future career paths. Most emerge from the program excited about public health, and approximately one third have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in Biostatistics. Each year, the Dean's Office at HSPH has provided discretionary funds to support some of the social activities of the program, and additional funding has been provided by Pfizer and Merck Research Laboratories.

In 1998, we successfully competed for a new grant from the MORE division (Minority Opportunities in Research) of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This new grant aims to increase the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing quantitative research careers in Public Health by expanding and supporting training opportunities at HSPH. By choosing a research theme of quantitative methods for community-based research, we aim to develop a cohesive training program that attracts both students and faculty and facilitates research addressing important issues in minority health. The grant provides stipend and tuition for six predoctoral students each year, including three from Biostatistics and three from Health and Social Behavior. Two medical doctors will also be supported through the Clinical Effectiveness Program. The grant also expands the summer program by providing funding for six summer research interns. This year's interns come from Tougaloo College, Cornell University, University of Hawaii, Spelman College, University of Pittsburgh, and Harvard College. Their summer projects range from the Roxbury Heart Study (under Dr. Camara Jones from the Department of Health and Social Behavior) to statistical analysis of US birth weight data (under Dr. Traci Clemons and Professor Marcello Pagano, both from our department).

The new grant also provides funds for an annual symposium devoted to minority health issues. Our inaugural symposium, held on June 8 this year, was a great success. The opening speaker, Professor Charles Willie from Harvard's Graduate School of Education, delivered an inspiring address on the value of diversity in public health. Other speakers included Drs. Traci Clemons, Camara Jones, James Hoyte, Bruce Kennedy, and Deborah Prothrow-Stith, and the topics ranged from violence prevention programs to environmental justice. One particularly exciting aspect of the symposium was the opportunity to invite faculty from several undergraduate colleges including Spelman, Tougaloo, Morris Brown, Morehouse, Howard, Jackson State, Tufts, Cornell, Shaw, University of Memphis, Hampton, LeMoyne-Owen, University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Chicago, Lake Forest, University of Texas at El Paso, and Fisk. Many of these visiting faculty came away excited about the possibilities that they saw for their students to pursue careers in public health.

Anyone interested in learning more about the program can check our website at http://www.biostat.harvard.edu/ courses/summer or email the Program Director, Louise Ryan, at ryan@jimmy.harvard.edu. Information may also be obtained from the new Administrative Director of the program, Ms. Sharmon Davis, at sdavis@sph.harvard.edu.