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Why Fred Hutch is committed to diversity in science

October 4, 2012

By Colleen Steelquist, Hutchinson Center Science Editor

At Fred Hutch, it’s our mission to eliminate cancer and related diseases. It’s also part of our mission to recruit and train highly qualified scientists and doctors in an environment that promotes collaboration and excellence.

Ask someone to imagine a scientist, and the average person will picture a white male. But that stereotypical image doesn’t reflect today’s world, which is why we’re committed to encouraging women and minorities in science by focusing on recruiting and mentoring students, postdoctoral fellows and young investigators from underrepresented groups.

Just ask Dr. Beti Thompson, a Center researcher who studies health promotion and cancer prevention in minorities and the medically underserved. She’s long worked to improve health and reduce cancer risk in the Lower Yakima Valley, home to Washington’s largest Hispanic population, and she leads national studies to better understand health disparities. She also frequently mentors students from New Mexico State University, a minority-serving institution.

“The diversity of our faculty and staff is essential,” Thompson said. “It promotes creative and intellectual vigor, creates an environment in which people feel respect and acceptance, and increases our ability to serve our community by attracting and retaining the best possible staff and scientists.”

Dr. Beti Thompson

She explained that researchers of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds can bring a clearer understanding of the day-to-day barriers faced by underserved and minority groups. Their participation in health care and biomedical research is critical to alleviating health disparities in communities. And such researchers serve as role models and mentors for minorities and underrepresented students thinking about pursuing scientific careers.

To that end, we’re proud to help sponsor the upcoming national conference of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, one of the largest annual gatherings of minority scientists in the country. Almost 4,000 science-minded minority students from around the U.S. will flock to Seattle Oct. 11-14 to attend. A number of attendees will tour our campus, peeking into labs and chatting with our scientists.

When SACNAS was formed in the 1970s, only 151 of more than 15,000 doctoral degrees in science and engineering—a mere 1 percent—were granted to Hispanics and only 13 were earned by Native American students. In 2009, Hispanic students claimed 5 percent of science and engineering PhDs, but Native Americans’ degrees totaled less than 1 percent. The numbers for both populations show a desperate need, especially as the U.S. population becomes increasingly more diverse and we seek to maintain our position as a global science and technology leader.

Our researchers and recruiters will be out in full force at the SACNAS conference, eager to share how we impact the world and its health in an effort to nurture and inspire the next generation of scientists to join the life-saving research that will help us all.

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