Inaugural $100,000 prize awarded to 10 universities throughout country

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine (SDM) has received the Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

UB is one of 10 universities that received the inaugural $100,000 prize for demonstrating exceptional dedication and innovation in fostering DEIA within research environments. Other winners include Duke University, Vanderbilt University and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

“The prize recognizes transformative cultures, systems, projects and processes that promote inclusive excellence and create environments that advance and value a culture of DEIA,” said Marie Bernard, MD, chief officer of scientific workforce diversity for the NIH.

The competition, which began in April 2023, is co-sponsored by NIH UNITE and the 24 institutes and centers across NIH. This is the first cohort of institutions to receive the prize.

“I am extremely proud, though not surprised, that UB was included among this year’s impressive group of recipients,” said Marcelo Araujo, DDS, MS, PhD, dean of UB’s School of Dental Medicine. “Through ongoing, vibrant initiatives, the dental school is doing its part to make the oral health field more diverse. We are committed to opening up opportunities to underrepresented minorities, serving individuals with disabilities, and hiring more faculty from a range of backgrounds and cultures.”

UB’s dental school was recognized specifically for its pathway programs, Destination Dental School and Native American Pre-Dental Gateway Program, and its mentoring program, Support, Training, Early-Career Enhancement and Retention (STEER).

“We are honored and extremely grateful to be a recipient of this prestigious prize,” said Latifa Bairam, DDS, MS, director of equity, diversity and inclusion for the dental school. “Within the dental profession, representation is slowly changing to reflect our patient population. With support from the NIH, we are hopeful that our programs and initiatives will continue to support growth and change.”

Founded in 2021, Destination Dental School (DDS) aims to remove barriers to careers in dentistry through a free seven-week summer pathway program open to undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students from across the United States and Canada interested in a career in dentistry.

Last summer, it graduated its third cohort of students. And in August 2023, it received the Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT into Diversity magazine for the second year in a row.

DDS was preceded by the Native American Pre-Dental Student Gateway Program, which was established in 2018 as a collaboration with the Seneca Nation Health System. The two pathway programs combined in 2022.

“UB’s pathway programs differ from traditional ones because they are free to participants,” said Jessica Scates, director of operations in the dental school’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). “Graduates also receive resources to help them prepare for the Dental Admissions Test. And they are reimbursed for the test fee and receive a waived application fee to our dental school. Altogether, these expenses total over $1,500 per graduate. This is a terrific investment when you consider that 97% of surveyed program graduates continue to pursue a career in dentistry.”

STEER was established in 2023 in collaboration with the dental school’s Office of Faculty Affairs to empower early- and mid-career professionals. Funded in part by the ADEAGies Foundation, STEER offers trainings based upon participant input and financial support to attend national conferences. The curriculum includes one-on-one mentor meetings, cohort meetings, professional development presentations and seminars.

“To ensure the success of STEER, we developed clear, measurable outcomes and indicators that we mapped to each of our objectives,” said Thikriat Al-Jewair, chair of the Department of Orthodontics, who served as the past assistant dean for EDI and founded the STEER program.

The work paid off. Scates noted that 96% of respondents from the program’s first year have rated the trainings as either very good or excellent.

The dental school’s focus on celebrating diversity in the dental profession has also led to the creation of a required online, interactive pre-orientation to equity, diversity and inclusion for incoming first-year dental students and a course focused on the social determinants of health, she added.

Together, the dental’s schools efforts have resulted in more opportunities for underrepresented individuals in the dental workforce and a more welcoming environment.

“The work we have established at UB’s dental school began with a committee of dedicated students, faculty, staff and community members who had big ideas,” Scates said. “We’ve been fortunate to have the team to make many of those ideas a reality.”

Representatives from the 10 prize-winning institutions will participate in a virtual symposium this summer devoted to their DEIA interventions that resulted in sustained, measurable change.

See the full list of recipients on the NIH DEIA Prize Competition website.