New Princeton Dean for Research initiatives aim to broaden inclusion in research, innovation and entrepreneurship

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021
by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

A new innovation fund to enable research collaborations with faculty at minority-serving institutions, a distinguished lecture series focused on research and mentorship opportunities, and an initiative to build inclusive participation in innovation and entrepreneurship are the three cornerstones of Princeton’s Office of the Dean for Research inclusion and equity action plan.

The programs will launch in academic year 2021-22 to enhance the diversity of participation in research, innovation and entrepreneurship within the University and with academic institutions beyond Princeton.

The new initiatives provide opportunities for individuals from backgrounds that are underrepresented in research to conduct collaborative projects of mutual interest with Princeton faculty, grow mentoring networks, and build entrepreneurial skills to transform discoveries into technologies that benefit society.

The programs come in response to Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber’s charge in June 2020 to senior academic and administrative leaders to develop plans to combat systemic racism.

President Eisgruber’s call cited a widespread and urgent desire to end systemic racism due to the harm it is causing “through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies.” Eisgruber asked University leaders to explore partnering with external organizations and communities to fight systemic racism in the world at large, and extend Princeton’s mission to underserved populations beyond the University.

The new Dean for Research programs bridge internal and external research communities through programs that provide opportunities in research, innovation and entrepreneurship for historically underrepresented groups, both at the University and in the United States more broadly.

“We can no longer accept a research environment that – whether intentionally or not – fails to provide a welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds,” said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “Research thrives when people come together with different viewpoints and life experiences to exchange insights and develop creative answers,” he said. “This is an opportunity to make a difference.”

Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney Priestley coauthored the inclusion and equity plan. “At present, participation in research, innovation and entrepreneurship is not broadly representative of the makeup of our country,” said Priestley, the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “We are developing potentially impactful programs that reach beyond campus and align with the national movement to bring more individuals of diverse backgrounds into science, technology, mathematics and engineering.”

The three initiatives are:

I. Research collaborations with minority-serving institutions

Bringing together faculty-led research at Princeton and researchers at minority-serving institutions, a new program will foster and fund research and innovation collaborations in the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences. The new program will address the issue of equitable funding in research while training greater numbers of researchers and catalyzing discoveries that can benefit humanity.

The program will offer opportunities for students at both institutions to engage with new faculty members, organize symposia, participate in innovation activities, and develop new skills.

II. Mentorship through a distinguished lecture series

A new distinguished lecture series featuring prominent underrepresented voices in research will offer opportunities for Princeton graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to build networks and gain mentoring opportunities. The Amplifying Voices Distinguished Lecture Series will bring inspirational figures in research, innovation or entrepreneurship to campus to deliver a public lecture. The series will offer mentorship and socialization opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, including with those whose backgrounds have been traditionally underrepresented in research, innovation or entrepreneurship.

The lectureship series aims to improve experiences for all graduate students and researchers, including those of underrepresented backgrounds, by enhancing the welcoming nature of the institutional campus climate and providing quality mentoring experiences. Speakers will be chosen by the graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in each academic division.

III. Inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship

The third initiative aims to boost representation of historically underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship to accelerate technology development and help reduce the wealth and opportunity gaps in American society. The creation of the Inclusive Entrepreneurship at Princeton initiative is an opportunity for Princeton to make a significant contribution to an entrepreneurship ecosystem that embraces talented scholars and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.

This fall, two new programs in Inclusive Entrepreneurship will launch:

EMPOWER: An annual conference celebrating underrepresented minorities in entrepreneurship

This annual conference series will bring together national thought-leaders in entrepreneurship to discuss and share practices that propel greater inclusion in the creation of new companies bringing emerging technologies to market for societal and economic progress. The conference is one way in which the University can help bridge the sources of inequity that suppress participation in entrepreneurship, bringing communities together to promote exchange of ideas.

The inaugural conference, Empower 2021, to be held Sept. 23-24, will welcome all attendees to celebrate Black entrepreneurs from throughout academia. The event convenes national thought-leaders to share knowledge across the stages of university startups and provides networking opportunities with fellow founders and investors. The conference includes a pitch competition featuring some of the nation’s best academic spinouts.

START Entrepreneurs

This new fellowship and accelerator program will fund and support entrepreneurial investigators from across all academic disciplines to translate University research into impactful new ventures. START entrepreneurs will spend the first 12 months on campus working with a Princeton University faculty member engaged in translational research. The entrepreneurs will then spend the next 18 months at the Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs where they will work full time as the founder of a new startup or non-profit organization.  Throughout the program, founders will be supported by entrepreneurship education, mentorship and funding from Princeton University.

The START program encourages applications from individuals who will contribute to the University’s diversity, broadly defined, including members of backgrounds underrepresented in academic entrepreneurship.