INI appoints Rainbo Hultman Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Rainbo Hultman, PhDRainbo Hultman, PhD, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, has been named associate director for diversity, equity, inclusion in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. She joins the leadership team with INI Director Ted Abel and three additional associate directors.

Abel said his goal in creating the new leadership position is to ensure that the institute is giving the attention needed to support its current faculty, staff and students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in science and to become a more welcoming and inclusive community for all neuroscientists.

“We strive to be a place where scientists can achieve success at all levels from undergraduate to senior faculty,” Abel said. “We know that a key component is seeing yourself reflected in the career path you want to take. We need to keep a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion across all planning and discussions in the institute. I am grateful to Dr. Hultman for accepting this role and helping to steer us toward a stronger future.”

Hultman said no individual person can claim to have direct experience with all the challenges scientists may encounter, but that she strives to be a voice for others, listening, learning, and being an ally for change.

“My awareness of the range of obstacles that one faces depending on background, race, gender-identity, and ability status became front and center while I was in graduate school, not only from my own experiences but especially from the experiences of close friends,” she said.

Hultman said her own experience seeking support through disability services as a graduate student has had a lasting impact on her perspective on inclusion. She has also witnessed a number of friends who struggled with mental illnesses or came out as members of the LGBTQIA community not getting the support they needed. And, she is particularly grateful for friends and colleagues who trusted her enough to share their experiences being Black in America and in academia and “the dangers, fears, and often daily assaults that they endured.”

While graduate school challenged her vision of whether she could find a path in academia, securing a postdoctoral position in the laboratory of  Dr. Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD, at Duke University, “a mentor who didn’t match anyone’s preconceived notions of what an academic is supposed to look or act like” renewed her faith in herself and her determination to challenge the status quo.

“He taught me a new version of mentorship, and in his lab, I had the opportunity to successfully mentor students spanning races, genders, gender identities, abilities, socio-economic statuses, and neurodiversity,” Hultman said. “It reinforced what I had suspected all along--that those of us who have faced unique challenges in life not only have what it takes to be successful in science but that these challenges imbue us with unique strengths to bring to science that have gone overlooked for too long. The data demonstrate what I have experienced firsthand: diversity drives innovation.”

Now leading her own lab at Iowa, Hultman remains committed to recruiting and mentoring students from a range of backgrounds. In her new leadership role, she will work within the INI and also in collaboration with colleagues across campus to advance initiatives for meaningful change in the culture and climate of the university.

She and INI leaders have begun to host listening sessions and informational interviews with current and former students and post-docs from underrepresented backgrounds. Hultman is mapping out where more support is needed.

In an initial step, this fall the INI leadership revised its Accelerator Grant call to encourage more applications from scientists from traditionally underrepresented groups. The grant teams, selected based on the creativity and innovation of their proposals, include first generation scholars as well as scientists from underrepresented backgrounds.

“We know this is the future of neuroscience, and we are excited by the promise of leadership in our early career scientists,” Abel said. “The INI is committed to building and supporting a diverse community of neuroscientists and to fostering allyship among our faculty and trainees.”

Monday, January 25, 2021