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February 16, 2011

University honors two with Presidential Diversity Awards

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology, led by chair Stephen Dewhurst, and the undergraduate student group University of Rochester Genocide Intervention (URGI) have been named the 2011 Presidential Diversity Award recipients.

colorful awardsBoth awardees were chosen for their “exemplary contributions to the University’s diversity and inclusion efforts.” The Department of Microbiology and Immunology was praised for its commitment to mentoring minority students while URGI was recognized for its success at increasing meaningful campus dialogue about diversity through creative programming.

“Appreciation of our racial, gender, ethnic, and intellectual diversity is essential to our success as a University,” says President Joel Seligman. “I am grateful to both recipients for creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment at Rochester.”

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology has a demonstrated commitment to recruiting and retaining underrepresented minorities. Currently, 21 percent of their students are underrepresented minorities and 58 percent are women.

Department members participate in several programs that support diversity. The Post-Baccalaureate Research and Education Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, provides research training to underrepresented minority students. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship is a schoolwide program for minority students interested in attending medical school. In the last five years, department faculty have mentored 11 of the 52 students in the fellowship program. Additionally, the Graduate Education in Biomedical Sciences program, which was developed by Dewhurst, provides students interested in pursuing doctoral degrees with a chance to engage in a summer research experience.

Founded in 2008, URGI aims to promote greater awareness of genocide around the world. After one year on campus, the group became one of two national chapters of Banaa, an international organization whose mission is to bring students from the Sudan to study at American universities. Through Banaa, the URGI was able to collaborate with the Office of Admissions, the International Services Office, the Bursar’s Office, and several community organizations to enroll the University’s first Banaa Scholar, Mohammed Hassan Ahmed, currently a member of the Class of 2014.

The group also has participated in community service projects, raised funds to provide relief to victims of genocide, and hosted a dinner discussion program, Celebrate our Humanity, which brought faculty, staff, students, and community members together and sparked a dialogue about diversity and acceptance on campus.

“In all my four years as an undergraduate, I had never before attended an event hosted by a group of students so connected and informed about their cause,” wrote Reema Singh ’10, in a letter nominating URGI for the award.

The Presidential Diversity Awards were created in 2009 by Seligman to recognize faculty, staff, students, units, departments or teams that “demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion through recruitment and retention efforts, teaching, research, multicultural programming, cultural competency, community outreach activities, or other initiatives.”

Each award includes a $2,500 prize; individual award winners receive half and designate half to support the budget of a program or department of the winner’s choice. Team award winners will designate the entire $2,500 prize to the program or department of the team’s choice.

“I’m delighted at this year’s nominees for the Presidential Diversity Awards, which reflect the widespread efforts to make our community more inclusive” says Vivian Lewis, deputy to the president and vice provost for faculty development and diversity and chair of the award’s selection committee. “Representing all of the schools, the staff, and the students, these nominees make an important statement about the extent of commitment to diversity at our University.”

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