June 20, 2023

SEC Faculty Travel Program Helps Vanderbilt’s Robinson Secure NIH Grant

Vanderbilt University's Robinson, left, received an SEC Faculty Travel Grant to work with Stevens-Watkins at the University of Kentucky.
Vanderbilt University's Robinson, left, received an SEC Faculty Travel Grant to work with Stevens-Watkins at the University of Kentucky.

By: SEC Staff
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

The University of Kentucky and Vanderbilt University faculty members Dr. Danelle Stevens-Watkins and Dr. Renã Robinson, respectively, had a vision for a program to support underrepresented minority faculty in biomedical research. That vision required additional resources to become a reality.

Through the Southeastern Conference Faculty Travel Program, Robinson received financial support to travel to Lexington and work with Stevens-Watkins to conceptualize the program, draft the proposal, and identify additional funding sources. Key to this program was also building an evaluation team to ensure the program had a maximal impact on its mentees.

As a result of their partnership, the team secured $2.04 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to move forward with the Faculty Accomplished Community that Cultivates Equity and Success in Science (ACCESS). Dr. Aileen Reid, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is also a part of the investigative team and leads the ACCESS program evaluation. Faculty ACCESS, began its inaugural work May 18-20 at the University of Kentucky’s campus. The workshop welcomed nine junior and mid-career faculty members from across the United States along with highly successful and funded senior faculty mentors.

The program provides resources and a network to support participating mentors and mentees along with their biomedical research and scholarship.

“We wanted to create a space that can support faculty in ways that prioritize their holistic wellness needs,” said Robinson, Dorothy Wingfield Phillips chair and professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt. “We wanted to provide different strategies to thrive in predominantly white institutions as academic spaces, as well as be able to earn funding that will support and sustain their research programs.”

Since its inception in 2012, the SEC Faculty Travel Program provides faculty with opportunities to conduct research, present lectures, exchange ideas and deliver artistic performances with their Conference colleagues. It is designed to lessen the financial burden associated with travel, lodging and meals as funds from the SEC are distributed to faculty by their respective universities.

This project is particularly meaningful because Robinson and Stevens-Watkins are both natives of Louisville and have been lifelong friends. Robinson noted that the Conference’s initiative provides necessary support toward the foundational work that goes into building larger programs.

“Having that time with your collaborators and understanding the different institutions that you are coming from, because they are all different in the SEC, is an often unappreciated, but necessary, part of projects,” Robinson said. “Having the space and time to work out research ideas was really useful, and having a travel grant gives you the freedom to do that in ways traditional grant funds wouldn’t support.”

The SEC Faculty Travel Program is one of several SEC academic endeavors designed to support the teaching, research, service and economic development goals of the Conference’s 14 member universities.

Learn more about the SEC Faculty Travel Program at TheSECU.com.