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2019 Diversity in STEM Summit marks five years of advocacy, inclusion, and insight

panel speakers at Diversity in STEM summit

Since 2015, when Associate Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington held NYU Tandon’s first Diversity in STEM Summit as a way to further the school’s efforts to serve students from demographic groups currently underrepresented in the STEM fields, the annual event has attracted a roster of high-wattage presenters and helped highlight the importance of diverse, collaborative teams in solving the world’s most pressing issues.

One of the most eagerly awaited occasions on the school calendar, the all-day Summit took as its theme this year “Engineering and Technology for a Healthier Tomorrow.” Given the disparities in the health field for underrepresented communities and the unconscious bias that often plagues the medical professions, that focus was a vital one.

As Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Rose Ampuero explained when she opened the proceedings, “The representation of Black and Latinx professionals in the health fields, is woefully inadequate. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the acceptance rate to medical schools in 2015 was 34% for African American or Black applicants compared to White applicants (44%) and Asian applicants (42%). That same year, 58.8% of medical school graduates were White while Black or African Americans and Latinx graduates comprised 5.7% and 4.6%, respectively. White and Asian graduates continue to represent the largest proportion of medical school graduates.”

Farrington also spoke, outlining the Summit’s main goals: “The first is to feature presenters who are on the forefront of creating new innovative technologies in medical devices that have had a tangible impact on quality of life, and especially accessibility by underserved communities,” she said. “The second is to do a deep dive into the intersectionality between race, gender and unconscious bias in the STEM/healthcare fields.”

 

Thanks to the impressive list of speakers and panelists, those goals were ably met, from the morning session moderated by Professor Jean Gallagher, who co-chairs the Inclusion@Tandon committee, to the evening presentation, which featured three MDs of color, all award-winning researchers who also hold leadership positions as CEOs and Chief Medical Officers.

It made for an awe-inspiring occasion having guests like Machelle Allen, a senior executive at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation; Luther Clark, the Deputy Chief Patient Officer and Global Director of Scientific Medical and Patient Perspective at Merck; and Marilyn Fraser, Chief Executive Officer at the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and the co-Director of the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center. Still, Farrington encouraged an atmosphere of warmth and congeniality, encouraging the many students in attendance to ask questions and offer opinions. “We don’t shy away from what may be viewed as difficult conversations here,” she said.

The day — which culminated in Fraser being presented with Tandon’s 2019 Champion Achievement Award for her efforts to increase access and improve the quality of healthcare for historically vulnerable populations, especially in Brooklyn, and to widen the pipeline of students entering medical and STEM professions — had multiple high points according to attendees. Among them was an appearance by Matt Campisi, a perennially popular NYU Tandon professor who spoke of his development of a low-cost, handheld device that is making it easier for women around the globe to get early breast-cancer diagnoses, and Amy Hurst, who directs the school’s Ability Project, which focuses on the intersection of technology and disability and which is dedicated to educating engineers and designers who recognize the importance of accessibility and inclusivity.

While many attendees felt it would be hard to top the 2019 Summit for thought-provoking discussions, inspiring guests, and edifying presentations, all agreed that they are looking forward to the 2020 event with anticipation.