Fueling Diversity in STEM Fields

May 12, 2021 Hub staff report

Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative marks $150 million effort to create new opportunities and support for diverse PhD students

Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg Philanthropies today announced the launch of a $150 million effort to directly address historic underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and to prepare a new, more diverse generation of researchers and scholars to assume leading roles in tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges.

painted portrait of Vivien Thomas
Portrait of Vivien Thomas by Bob Gee, Oil on Canvas, 1969

The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative at Johns Hopkins — named for one of the institution’s most celebrated figures, a Black surgical laboratory supervisor best known for his work to develop a lifesaving cardiac surgical technique — will create new pathways for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions to pursue and earn PhDs in STEM fields.

“STEM fields play an increasingly important role in developing innovative solutions to a wide range of pressing challenges, yet STEM PhD programs don’t reflect the broad diversity of our country,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, 108th mayor of New York City, and a Johns Hopkins alumnus. “So creating more equitable opportunities for more students is critical to our country’s future in so many ways.

“By supporting JHU’s world-class STEM program, and by partnering with historically Black and minority-serving schools that have a strong record of educating students who go on to get STEM PhDs, we will help increase diversity in industries that will pioneer advances we have not yet even imagined, and shape the lives of generations to come.”

Multiple studies dating to the late 1990s have shown that STEM PhD programs do not reflect the broad diversity of talent and perspectives that other fields of study have cultivated, nor have they effectively recruited scholars from diverse undergraduate institutions. National Science Foundation data show that in 2019, there were more than 30 fields of science — including multiple disciplines in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and engineering — in which fewer than five PhDs were awarded to Black or Latinx students in the U.S.

Students recruited to the university through the new program announced today will be known as Vivien Thomas Scholars, in recognition of the man who developed and refined a corrective cardiac surgical technique to treat “blue baby syndrome” at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1940s. Despite conducting years of lab work to demonstrate that the procedure could be performed safely on a human patient, Thomas did not receive due credit for the lifesaving advance —known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt — for decades.

The $150 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide permanent funding to add a sustained cohort of approximately 100 new positions for diverse PhD students in JHU’s more than 30 STEM programs, representing disciplines ranging from neuroscience to physics to engineering. The initiative will engage in active outreach to applicants from HBCU and MSI institutions, a group that encompasses more than 450 four-year colleges and universities nationwide. Each scholar will receive up to six years of full tuition support, a stipend, health insurance and travel funding, along with significant mentorship, research, and professional development opportunities. Initial pathway programs will begin this summer, with the first cohort of Vivien Thomas Scholars entering Johns Hopkins PhD programs in the fall of 2022.

For more information on The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative, visit The Hub. 

Topics: Johns Hopkins, Support Scholars