RNEL is a group of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. RNEL is made of a team of engineers, clinicians, and neuroscientists. We strive to become more inclusive of minorities in STEM and are currently undertaking several initiatives to actively increase inclusion and diversity within our group.
The Rehab Neural Engineering Labs (RNEL) at Pitt have started a broad initiative to facilitate and promote inclusion and diversity in STEM.
RNEL is a group of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh partaking in research aimed at improving the quality of life of individuals with neurological impairments by advancing the scientific understanding of motor and somatosensory systems to engineer new rehabilitation therapies and technologies.
We are dedicated to increasing diversity in STEM by promoting an inclusive environment (RNEL’s Mission and Values). Recently we have initiated several committees aimed at tacking various aspects of promoting inclusion and diversity within our labs. These initiatives include Youth Outreach, Undergraduate and Community College Outreach, External Communication, Funding, Messaging, Training and Discussion, and Political Action. The following describe the initiatives that I am currently involved with.
Promoting inclusion and diversity in STEM starts at a young age. We want to get youth interested in STEM early on, before they think that they can’t do it. We are currently partnering with several public schools throughout Pittsburgh to deliver series of workshops focusing on neuroscience, engineering, and science in general. In 2021, we partnered MyPlace Youth Program at Action Housing and delivered a series of programming workshops using Python to youth ages 18-24. These workshops are designed for people with no programming experience, and each task and problem is related to real-world examples. We are currently running a similar series of programming workshops for adults through the University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Center (CEC) in the Hill District.
UNDERGRADUATE AND COMMUNITY
There are few minorities, especially Black and Latinx students, who pursue graduate school. We want to highlight our research to undergraduate and community college students who otherwise would not consider graduate school. This is a big change in our recruiting practices, which historically relied on prospective students contacting us. We are delivering recruiting presentations to students at local community colleges to encourage students to apply for summer research assistantships at RNEL. We have also designed training workshops to better structure the mentorship of undergraduate students.
Our outreach initiatives are ambitious and require funding. We strive to create and maintain high quality demonstrations and workshops and have recently obtained funding from the Pitt Year of Engagement competition, with matching funds from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Additionally, we recognize that minority students and those from underprivileged backgrounds may not pursue summer research or graduate school due to financial barriers. We want to ensure that all positions in the lab are paid and have ensured that all undergraduate students are on a consistent pay scale with the support of all PIs. We also want to encourage our graduate students and postdocs to dedicate a portion of their time in these inclusion and diversity initiatives. To do so requires that part of their effort is compensated for. We are currently seeking Center funding so that we can consistently facilitate our initiatives and have staff specifically dedicated to inclusion and diversity.