DRIVE in Research Pilot Program: offering research opportunities to underrepresented minority and first-generation and/or low-income students

MCHRI launched the pilot Diversity, Respect, and Inclusion are Vital for Excellence in Research Pipeline Program in 2021 virtually.

November 30, 2021

By Laura Hedli

In the summer of 2021, 10 Stanford undergraduates were the first to participate in the DRIVE (Diversity, Respect, and Inclusion are Vital for Excellence) in Research Pipeline Program. The program offers research opportunities to underrepresented minority and first-generation and/or low-income students.

As the visionary of the DRIVE Research Pipeline Program, Professor of Pediatrics (Gastroenterology) Eric Sibley, MD, PhD, drew inspiration for its creation from an experience he had over 40 years ago.

Dr. Sibley spent the summer after his first year at Harvard College in Washington D.C. He attended a program for underrepresented minority students in the sciences held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he worked in a neurology lab and received a stipend. The program was his first exposure to research outside of the classroom, and it had quite an impact. He went on to run a successful NIH-funded Stanford biomedical research laboratory while also managing patient care responsibilities.

MCHRI bolsters its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion

“I thought it would be nice if we, within Pediatrics, could sponsor a similar program and have undergrad students come to Stanford to be exposed to pediatric research projects, funded by the Department,” says Dr. Sibley, who served as the Pediatrics’ Associate Chair for Academic Affairs and liaison to the Office of Faculty Diversity and Development. As an African American and person with a disability, he has tirelessly championed diversity at the University.

Eric Sibley, MD, PhD

In 2020, Dr. Sibley presented his proposal for the then nascent DRIVE Research Pipeline Program to the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics Mary Leonard, MD, MSCE. He also presented to her a separate request for a DRIVE Research Award to support faculty scholarship that addresses critical knowledge on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and benefits diverse communities. Dr. Leonard, who is the Director of the Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI), suggested funding for both DRIVE initiatives come from MCHRI.

Earlier in 2021, MCHRI launched its Structural Racism, Social Injustice, and Health Disparities Pilot Grants as the final outcome of the proposed DRIVE Research Award. This new funding opportunity identified many Stanford faculty who were interested in or already doing work related to DEI and could serve as mentors to DRIVE Research Pipeline Program students. With the program housed at MCHRI, faculty mentors can come from any department within Stanford School of Medicine, a critical stipulation being the research must concern maternal and child health.

“The core of the DRIVE Research Pipeline Program is really to allow students to work closely with, and learn from, faculty mentors and/or senior investigators in various labs or groups,” Dr. Sibley says, noting that MCHRI put out a call to faculty to recruit those interested in partnering with a student for the summer quarter. “That one-on-one experience would hopefully encourage students to continue to pursue medical science.”

Carmin Powell, MD

Creating a culture of transformative scholarship

Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Carmin Powell, MD, attended Stanford as an undergraduate, then returned for residency, and is now a member of the faculty. As an undergraduate, she began to consider a career in medicine while participating in clinical research with the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine. After completing her degree in biomechanical engineering, Dr. Powell also attended an intramural research training program at the NIH and found the intersection of biomedical research and clinical medicine to be a great fit for her interests.

Through the mentorship of Dr. Sibley as a pediatric resident trainee and junior faculty member, Dr. Powell was appointed Pediatrics co-liaison to the Office of Faculty Diversity and Development, and helped shape the DRIVE Research Pipeline Program. She recognized how exposure to research at a critical juncture in a student’s academic career can impact their life’s trajectory.

Sophomores are still early enough in their undergraduate experience for a summer research opportunity to impact their major coursework and strengthen their graduate or medical school applications. Program leadership decided to invite students of this class year in particular to apply.

Including first-generation and/or low-income college students was proposed by Paul Fisher, MD, Professor of Neurology & Neurological Sciences and Pediatrics and MCHRI Executive Committee Member. Dr. Sibley credits Dr. Fisher with pointing out that the needs of this population are similar to those of underrepresented minorities.

In 2021, most DRIVE students conducted their research virtually due to the pandemic. Each received a stipend of $5000, which was designed to be used for whatever the student needed—living expenses, groceries, textbooks. For the 2022 program, MCHRI has secured over $100,000 in funding and aims to accept about 20 students.

“How do you encapsulate what diversity is and what it can bring to your institution?” Dr. Powell says.

“I think what is important is that, over the span of 5-10 years, we actually are driving a lot of change in terms of increasing awareness about health disparities, improving access to mentorship for diverse, underrepresented, and first-generation/low-income students, and simultaneously driving health equity in our biomedical research. We talk about this as a culture of transformative scholarship. That’s really what I hope to see in the years to come as the DRIVE Research Pipeline Program continues to grow.”

2021 DRIVE Research Pipeline Program Experiences

Several of the 2021 DRIVE students and their mentors offered their perspectives on the program. Many of the Stanford students had no prior research experience at the start of the summer. Click on each capsule below to learn how the DRIVE Research Pipeline Program accelerated their career trajectories.

To read highlights of awardees, click on the capsules below.

Profile of Dr. Sibley in Stanford Medicine magazine

“For Sibley, prevailing through adversity had a lot to do with people who cleared the way ahead of him and knowing that he could do the same,” write Julie Greicius and Tracie White in a 2021 Stanford Medicine magazine story. Their piece provides a detailed personal history of Dr. Sibley and illustrates how he’s prioritized being a role model for others—especially those underrepresented in medicine.

Elisa Rivas
DRIVE in Research Pipeline Pilot Program Participant

Devin Chuyi Moua
DRIVE in Research Pipeline Pilot Program Participant

Crystal Chidume
DRIVE in Research Pipeline Pilot Program Participant

Laura Hedli is a writer for the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics and contributes stories to the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute.