Weill Cornell Medicine Celebrates Leaders in Diversity and Inclusion

diversity week award winners

Weill Cornell Medicine honored a dozen faculty, trainees, students and staff April 25 for their outstanding service and leadership in promoting diversity at the academic medical institution.

The annual Diversity Awards, this year hosted virtually, honor exemplary contributions through research, clinical care, community service and advocacy to improve the health of populations that historically have had unequal access to care. They also recognize excellence in mentorship and fostering an inclusive, engaging and welcoming workplace. Initiated in 2011 to reflect the institution’s commitment to diversity, encourage public service and mentorship, and build on existing initiatives to recruit and retain diverse students and faculty, the awards have since broadened in scope and grown in number to honor staff and excellence in the mentorship of women.

“At the end of the day, achieving equity is the only way, I think, to achieve humanity in this world we live in,” said Dr. Augustine M.K Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “This celebration brings our physicians, scientists, educators, administrators and community members together. We are all committed to this cause of greater equity, diversity and inclusion in academic medicine and health care.”

The ceremony honored seven winners of the 2022 Pioneers in Diversity Awards, which recognize members of the Weill Cornell Medicine community who have distinguished themselves as key contributors to a culture of diversity. Dr. Susana Morales, director of the Weill Cornell Medicine Diversity Center of Excellence; Dr. Joy Howell, assistant dean for diversity and student life; Dr. Linnie Golightly, associate dean of diversity and inclusion; Dr. Yazmin Carrasco, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion; and Fanesse George, assistant director of staff diversity and inclusion; presented the awards.

Dr. Maria Lame, an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine, was awarded the Bruce Laine Ballard, M.D. Award for Excellence in Mentorship. The award recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated a commitment to improving student life and fostering a nurturing and supportive environment where students are able to thrive and succeed. Dr. Lame helped create and is associate director of the DiversifiED Summer Apprenticeship Program, which exposes college students who are from groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine (URiM) to the medical field. Dr. Lame also created a sponsorship program for URiM medical students who are visiting Weill Cornell for emergency medicine sub-internships.

Third-year radiology resident Dr. Michelle Lee was recognized with the Louis Wade Sullivan, M.D. Award for Excellence in Public Health Advocacy, which honors a resident or postdoctoral fellow who has been an outspoken champion for health promotion and a public health advocate, especially for medically underserved populations.  Dr. Lee is a writer and community advocate for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. A passionate advocate for social justice, Dr. Lee’s work combatting anti-Asian racism has been featured in two dozen media outlets and has inspired many at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Weill Cornell Medicine alumni Dr. Dakotah Lane and Dr. Cristina Toledo-Cornell, who both graduated in 2013, were honored with the Marie Metoyer, M.D. Award for Excellence in Community Service. The award recognizes faculty or alumnus of Weill Cornell Medicine who has gone above and beyond to serve communities despite difficult conditions. Dr. Lane is the executive medical director of the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic in Washington; Dr. Toledo-Cornell is currently an instructor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the former public health director at the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic. Drs. Lane and Toledo-Cornell developed a successful public health strategy to support the Lummi Nation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They drew up pandemic preparedness plans before the first positive case there, fostered clear communication with the community and coordinated the extension of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine Phase 3 clinical trial to the Lummi Nation.

Weill Cornell Medicine students Chimsom Orakwue and Josue Barnes received the Ida Sophia Scudder, MD Award for Excellence in Public Service. The award recognizes medical, doctoral, M.D.-Ph.D. or physician assistant students who have made significant contributions in the field of community service and providing care to the underserved.

Orakwue, a third-year Weill Cornell Medical College student, co-founded a student-run initiative to match Spanish-speaking patients with medical students with strong proficiency in the language. Orakwue has served in numerous leadership positions during her time at Weill Cornell Medicine, including president of the Student National Medical Association and the Students for Equal Opportunity in Medicine. She was also a board member and planning committee member of the student group Watering My Garden, which provides a safe, supportive and nurturing environment for women of color.

Barnes, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Physiology, Biophysics and Systems Biology program at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, was recognized for his leadership and commitment to community service and social justice. Barnes is co-president of the Tri-Institutional Minority Society, which aims to create meaningful change to promote diversity in the Tri-Institutional community. Through events and other opportunities, the society strives to increase the number of URiM students in biomedicine.

Daisy Torres-Baez won the Administrative Staff Award, which recognizes staff members who embody the spirit of cultural diversity and service. Torres-Baez, who earned a master’s degree in student affairs administration from Binghamton University and is pursuing a doctorate in higher education leadership, is diversity programs coordinator for the Weill Cornell Medicine Diversity Center of Excellence. She was instrumental in the successful implementation of the Black and Latino Men in Medicine pipeline program, and assisted in the LGBTQ+ mentoring cascade.

Dr. Rache Simmons presented the 2022 Jessica M and Natan Bibliowicz Award for Excellence in Mentoring Women Faculty to Dr. Fabrizio Michelassi, chairman of the Department of Surgery and the Lewis Atterbury Stimson Professor of Surgery. The award recognizes outstanding faculty who demonstrate a commitment to advancing the careers of women int eh areas of clinical care, research or education. Dr. Michelassi’s efforts to mentor, coach, sponsor and promote women are notable, Dr. Simmons said, and have led to an increase in women surgeons at all career levels and leadership positions in his department. In 2016, the Association of Women Surgeons presented Dr. Michelassi with the Past Presidents’ Honorary Member Award, which is given to non-members who are supportive of the association’s goals and mission.

Four Weill Cornell Medicine faculty and trainees were recognized with the Ritu Banga Healthcare Disparity Research Awards. Endowed by Ritu and Board Fellow Ajay Banga, the awards provide one-year research funding to investigators whose work seeks to improve the health of underrepresented minorities and achieve health equity for people locally and globally. The winners include:

Faculty ($50,000 each)

  • Dr. Pinkal Desai, assistant professor of medicine, “Understanding Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Premalignant States in Myeloid Malignancies.”
  • Dr. Lindsey Reif, instructor of clinical epidemiology in medicine, “MAISHA-Youth! Gender Equity and Empowerment to Prevent Violence Among Adolescents and Young Adults in Tanzania.”
  • Dr. Deirdre Sawinski, assistant professor of medicine (interim), “Sex and Race-Based Disparities in Transplant Access Among Dialysis Patients in New York City.”

Fellows ($50,000)

  • Dr. Lily Yan, global health research fellow, “Reducing Disparities in Hypertension Treatment and Control Among Impoverished Adults in Haiti.”


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