On June 9, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center leaders unveiled two new awards honoring employees who embody the Hutch’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, in research. The Inclusive Leadership and Excellence Award recognizes those who have made meaningful contributions to inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism and anti-oppression. The Humanity and Science Leadership Award recognizes employees who have supported the holistic development and career success of individuals from diverse backgrounds.
HIV scientist Dr. Michele Andrasik, infectious disease biologist Dr. April Randhawa and public health researcher Kathy Briant each received an inaugural Inclusive Leadership and Excellence Award, while blood stem cell researcher Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb received the first Humanity in Science Leadership Award.
“All four of our honorees — Michele, Kathy, April and Bev — are remarkable and have really made a terrific contributions to the Fred Hutch as we move forward,” said Hutch President and Director and Raisbeck Endowed Chair holder Dr. Tom Lynch during a center-wide, DEI-focused virtual event in which Drs. Paul Buckley and Chris Li, who co-lead the Hutch’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, announced the awardees.
The recipients of the Inclusive Leadership and Excellence Award have each demonstrated excellence and innovation in scientific research or cancer disparities, while promoting diversity, equity and inclusion over their time at the Hutch.
Andrasik directs social and behavioral sciences and community engagement for the Hutch-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network, or HVTN, which aims to develop a safe and effective preventative vaccine for HIV globally. She has always prioritized overcoming racial and ethnic disparities in vaccine research — a commitment that became particularly significant in 2020 when HVTN shifted focus to support clinical testing of vaccines for the coronavirus by the COVID-19 Prevention Network, or CoVPN.
“In the past year, Michele’s expertise has become especially important as we turned our focus to COVID-19, which … had disproportionate impact on communities of color. Under Michele’s leadership, the CoVPN was able to bring its HIV experience to the community engagement work for COVID vaccine trials,” said Gail Broder, a senior community engagement project manager for HVTN, in her nomination letter.
Andrasik led efforts to create expert panels from across communities to serve as reviewers and ensure equity in COVID-19 and vaccination research.
“Our efforts resulted in 47% of participants enrolled at CoVPN sites — in the four U.S. government-funded COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials for which data are available — in the U.S. identifying as Black, Indigenous or people of color, or BIPOC” Andrasik said. “Our efforts underscore that not only is it possible to ensure equity and inclusion, it is needed to ensure trust, and uptake and acceptability of vaccines when they become available."
Briant similarly works to ensure marginalized voices are heard, prioritizing community engagement and advocacy. When the National Cancer Institute mandated that each NCI-designated cancer center provide an office of community outreach and engagement in its catchment area, Briant was crucial in transforming the Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Health Disparities Research Center into the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, or OCOE. She continues to lead advocacy efforts as OCOE’s assistant director.
While building the OCOE, Briant worked with a team of faculty and staff to understand the population needs in the Fred Hutch catchment area by working on a needs assessment to hear from individuals about the barriers they faced in cancer prevention and control. After learning about the health inequities that specific underrepresented populations faced, she hired four diverse community health educators to work on providing community outreach and engagement to these underrepresented populations.
“She is always considering who is at the table and who is not, who has access to resources and who does not, then she works to break down barriers to make sure the table is surrounded by those who are most affected and that resources are available to those who most need it,” wrote nominator Elizabeth Carosso, who works alongside Briant as a research project manager in the OCOE.
Since her start at Fred Hutch in 2003, Briant has held several different roles, but is most proud of the work she undertook alongside her team in establishing the OCOE.
“In my time here, diversity, equity and inclusion has not always visibly been at the forefront of priorities at the Hutch, but it has always been at the heart of my work,” shared Briant, “It is truly exciting to see this all come to fruition and it makes me hopeful about the impact we can have in creating an inclusive workplace and in addressing health inequities with our community partners.”
Like her fellow awardees, Randhawa has continually focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in her work. She is the associate director of laboratory sciences for the HVTN and CoVPN’s Statistical and Data Management Center, and throughout her work as a researcher, she has demonstrated that inclusion, diversity, and equity are integral to research at Fred Hutch. Randhawa also leads the team that develops and implements the HVTN’s annual Vaccine Science Workshops, which help create learning opportunities at African clinical trial sites to advance the careers of new investigators who are underrepresented in their fields.
“Dr. Randhawa frequently encourages her colleagues to ask questions with an anti-racism and anti-oppression lens. Through her outreach and mentoring efforts, she ensures BIPOC faculty and staff feel like they belong at the Hutch,” said nominator Dr. Peter Gilbert, who studies HIV vaccine development efforts in the HVTN alongside Randhawa.
Randhawa said that this recognition means more to her than any other honor or award she has received in her career.
“Although my primary role at Fred Hutch is related to vaccine development and evaluation, I have made it a priority to be involved in work that increases diversity and equity, and moves us towards becoming an inclusive, anti-racist organization,” she said.
The Humanity and Science Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have implemented innovative approaches to scientific research, while supporting and mentoring individuals from underrepresented communities.
Awardee Torok-Storb studies the stem cells that generate the body’s blood and immune systems and the microenvironment of bone marrow that helps regulate their function. But beyond her stem cell research, she has been a devoted advocate for mentorship and supported the creation of the Hutch’s two training labs, where young scientists can gain hands-on research experience.
She is devoted to ensuring that young people from groups underrepresented in science have opportunities to engage in internships with Fred Hutch researchers, with many students launching their careers as a result of their involvement in Hutch internship programs. Her open-door policy helps build long-lasting relationships and a network of support for students.
“Dr. Torok-Storb is steadfast in her conviction that we need to allocate our time and effort to support the brilliance of students who have been marginalized from science. Not only leading the creation of programs for high school and undergraduate students, but working to identify and secure resources to ensure that young people have an incredible experience,” said Dr. Jeanne Ting Chowning, senior director of Science Education & Training, in her nomination letter.
Both awards were developed and administered by the Hutch’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, which was created in early 2020 to formalize DEI efforts across the Hutch. As the center moves to elevate and expand its efforts to make science and its findings more accessible and inclusive for both scientists and participants, the first class of DEI award recipients demonstrate the achievements already made by committed employees at the Hutch.
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