In a celebration of Weill Cornell Medicine’s commitment to fostering inclusivity in academic medicine, the institution on April 25 honored nearly a dozen faculty, students and staff who exemplify excellence in diversity, equity and inclusion.
Members of the Weill Cornell Medicine community gathered in Griffis Faculty Club for the institution’s Celebration of Diversity, part of the fifth annual Diversity Week. This year’s event, the first hosted in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, engaged the institutional community at a reception and honored those whose exemplary contributions through mentorship, research, clinical care, community service and advocacy have had a lasting impact.
“By definition, a community is a body of various kinds of individuals who are united by a common purpose and interest,” said Dr. Francis Lee, interim dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “People often talk about diversity and inclusion in facts and figures, but the important work that you all do here at Weill Cornell transcends those facts and figures so that diversity, inclusion, and belonging truly manifest all around us."
Established in 2011, the Pioneer in Diversity Awards honor faculty, staff, students and trainees who have distinguished themselves as key contributors to a culture of diversity. Each of the six recipients earn an award of $1,000 as well as a commemorative plaque.
Dr. Susana Morales, director of the Weill Cornell Medicine Diversity Center of Excellence, presented Dr. Juan R. Cubillos-Ruiz, the William J. Ledger, M.D., Associate Professor for Infection and Immunology in Obstetrics and Gynecology, with the Bruce Laine Ballard, M.D. Award. The award is presented to a faculty member who demonstrates a commitment to improving student life and to fostering a nurturing and supportive environment where students are able to thrive and succeed.
Dr. Morales noted Dr. Cubillos-Ruiz’s commitment to providing a safe and nurturing environment for graduate and medical students, postdoctoral fellows, and clinicians from underrepresented backgrounds. Many of his mentees have since received prestigious training grants such as the T32 and F31 NIH Awards, and the ASCO Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award, among others.
“It has been wonderful to mentor so many young scientists in my lab, and to witness their professional success has been absolutely rewarding,” he said after the event.
Dr. Andrés Ricaurte Fajardo, a clinical research fellow in the Division of Molecular Imaging and Therapeutics in the Department of Radiology, received the Louis Wade Sullivan, M.D. Award for Excellence in Public Health Advocacy. This award is bestowed on a resident or a postdoctoral fellow who has been an outspoken champion for health promotion and a public health advocate, especially for medically underserved populations.
In her introduction of Dr. Ricaurte Fajardo, Dr. Joy Howell, assistant dean for diversity and student life, and vice chair for diversity in the Department of Pediatrics, cited his longstanding and “unwavering commitment to addressing health equity disparities.” She cited his work at his previous university, Pontifical Xavierian University, in Bogotá, Colombia, where he created clinical practice guidelines for stroke, helping many without health insurance gain access to quality care. She especially noted his dedication to working in Colombia’s rural and indigenous communities.
Dr. Zoltan Antal, chief of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and director of the Pediatric Diabetes Program, earned the Marie Metoyer, M.D. Award. The award is given to a current faculty member or Weill Cornell Medical College alumnus who epitomizes the legacy of Dr. Metoyer, the first Black woman to graduate from Weill Cornell Medicine who valued healing and community engagement. The award honors those who have gone above and beyond to serve underprivileged communities in an unorthodox manner.
Dr. Linnie Golightly, associate dean of diversity and inclusion, presented the award to Dr. Antal — who is co-chair of the Pediatric Health Equity Task Force and a member of the Health Equity Working group — describing him as someone who has “a demonstrated commitment for advocacy, specifically regarding the practice of segregated care based on insurance.”
Ifé Akano, a Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences pharmacology doctoral student, and Natalie Nguyen, Weill Cornell Medicine Class of 2024, received the Ida Sophia Scudder, M.D. Award for Excellence in Public Service. This award is presented to two Weill Cornell Medicine students who have made significant contributions in the field of community service and provided care and opportunities to the underserved.
Dr. Yazmin Carrasco, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, noted how a dedication to health equity and diversity have been cornerstones for both awardees during their time at Weill Cornell Medicine. She cited Nguyen’s advocacy for unhoused populations, establishing the Weill Students for Harm Reduction (WiSH), a student-run clinic that offers wound care for people who inject drugs, among her many accomplishments.
For Akano, Dr. Carrasco highlighted how she launched a mentorship program that pairs college students with graduate mentors to guide them through the daunting graduate school application process. She also cited Akano’s work as co-chair of the Tri-I Outreach Committee (TORC) and her experience co-organizing the first annual Tri-I Outreach Fair, working with undergraduates who come mainly from underrepresented minority communities and low-income families to spread awareness about STEM careers.
Fanesse George, director of diversity, inclusion and engagement, presented the Administrative Staff Award to Sheena Rumnit, assistant director of admissions. George cited Rumnit’s work as a “consistent, unwavering advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion for students, clinicians, scientists, educators and staff alike,” working to help build the most diverse and dedicated community of students and future health care leaders at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“This event is special because it illuminates the important work being done in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusivity by a diverse group of staff and faculty at Weill Cornell,” Rumnit said after the program. “It is important to me because diversity, equity, and inclusion is a language that I speak every day, and I believe the more people see what it looks like when we actively work towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, the more people will also be able to speak the language.”
Dr. Rache Simmons, associate dean of diversity and inclusion and the Anne K. and Edwin C. Weiskopf Professor of Surgical Oncology, presented Dr. Monika Safford, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity and the John J. Kuiper Professor of Medicine, with the 2023 Jessica M. and Natan Bibliowicz Award for Excellence in Mentoring Women Faculty. The award recognizes outstanding men and women faculty at Weill Cornell Medicine who demonstrate commitment to advancing the academic careers of women in the areas of clinical care, research, or education. Dr. Safford characterizes mentoring as “one of the most rewarding aspects of my career,” she said.
“Mentorship has been a passion for Dr. Safford,” Dr. Simmons said. “Dr. Safford has a genuine commitment to her mentees as unique individuals and the flexibility to encourage her mentees to explore a variety of different pathways until they find a direction that best fits their individual skills and passions.”
Three faculty members and a research associate were recognized with Ritu Banga Healthcare Disparities Research Awards. The awards provide $50,000 of 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 are:
- Dr. Melissa Frey, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, “Mobile Health Platform for Hereditary Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment in an Underserved Population.”
- Dr. Kevin H. Kensler, assistant professor of population health sciences, “Impact of Individual Stressors and Neighborhood Context on Cancer Screening Disparities by Race and Ethnicity.”
- Dr. Andrea Temkin-Yu, assistant professor of psychology in clinical psychiatry, “Increasing Access to Perinatal Mental Health Support: Pilot Trial of Cognitive Behavioral-Skills Mobile App for Pregnant and Postpartum Women.”
- Dr. Maria Revuelta, research associate in medicine, “Epigenetic Reprogramming of the Microenvironment in the Biology and Clinical Outcomes of African-Ancestry Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma Patients.”
“What is rewarded, honored and celebrated is indicative of one’s values,” Dr. Golightly said after the event. “The event is special because it shows that our community cares about diversity in a way that is interwoven across all missions: teaching, mentorship, community service, equity, patient care and research.”