National Institute of Health (NIH) honors the UPR-RP with prestigious award

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has honored the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras with the prestigious NIH Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize.

The NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) team announced the ten recipients of the NIH Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize. In April 2023, NIH launched the DEIA Prize Competition to acknowledge transformative cultures, systems, projects, and processes developed by institutions of higher education that promote inclusive excellence and foster environments advancing a culture of DEIA. Administered by the COSWD team, the DEIA Prize Competition is cosponsored by NIH UNITE and the 24 NIH institutes and centers providing extramural funding.

Each recipient will receive a $100,000 prize from NIH in recognition of their exceptional dedication and innovation in fostering DEIA within research environments. The prize is p

awarded as a recognition for their exemplary efforts to create cultures of inclusive excellence and enhance DEIA in the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise. In alignment with NIH’s commitment to supporting and engaging limited-resource institutions (LRIs), three prizes were awarded to LRIs*.

The University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus, a premier Hispanic-serving institution, was one of the three LRIs to receive this institutional prize from NIH. The UPRRP received this prestigious NIH prize in recognition for the implementation of the Neuroscience Research Opportunities to Increase Diversity (NeuroID: program, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS) 13 years ago. The NeuroID program is spearheaded by Dr. José E. García-Arrarás and Dr. Carmen S. Maldonado-Vlaar, two distinguished Puerto Rican neuroscientists from the UPRRP Biology Department. 

This highly successful neuroscience program has played a transformative role in training numerous undergraduate Hispanic students within this institution. This innovative neuroscience-based research training initiative has successfully guided dozens of students toward graduate programs in neuroscience, significantly contributing to enhancing diversity within the academic and scientific fields. 

The achievements of the NeuroID program can be attributed to three key objectives. First, the establishment of a comprehensive and innovative program has provided URM undergraduate students with invaluable insights into various facets of a research career in neuroscience. Second, the program has fostered a robust mentorship network that supports selected students throughout their journey to become neuroscientists. Third, it has strengthened the neuroscience network on the island by bridging the gap between undergraduate teaching universities and research laboratories in top-tier institutions across the United States.  

After receiving the news of the prestigious award, Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar, Co-Principal Investigator of the NeuroID program who also wrote the NIH prize application remarked, said: “This is the first time that the UPR Rio Piedras Campus is recognized as a champion for DEI in biomedical research, a distinction that positions our outstanding research and academic endeavors in the top tier of institutions of higher education in Puerto Rico and the United States. Dr. García Arrarás and I are honored to receive this prize that truly recognizes our unwavering dedication and commitment in guiding the successful career paths of our amazing students. Certainly, this prize is a great achievement for the NeuroID program and our institution.”

The institutional awardees are:

  • California State University San Marcos
  • Duke University
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of Florida
  • University of Illinois Chicago
  • University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras
  • Vanderbilt University

The prize recipients have implemented effective strategies that promote equity and eliminate structural barriers to success among students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty in the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise. These initiatives contribute to systemic change by fostering inclusive research environments and stand as models for adoption by other academic and research institutions.

Dr. Marie Bernard, NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, remarked: “Congratulations to the prize recipients on their well-deserved recognition. I extend our appreciation to every institution that submitted a prize competition entry. I look forward to the continued success of our collective efforts to champion DEIA throughout the biomedical and behavioral sciences.”

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