Bloomberg Gives $150 Million to Help Universities Diversify STEM Doctorates

The initiative, which will benefit Johns Hopkins and six other institutions, will be named in honor of Vivien Thomas, best known for his work treating “blue baby syndrome.”


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Michael Bloomberg is donating a total of $150 million to Johns Hopkins University and six other institutions of higher learning to increase racial diversity among students seeking Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math.

The effort was announced Tuesday in a joint statement from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Bloomberg’s alma mater and the recipient of most of the money.

Funding will also go to a handful of historically Black colleges and universities and minority serving institutions: Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, Prairie View A&M University, Spelman College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The initiative is being named in honor of Vivien Thomas, a Black surgical laboratory supervisor who is best known for his work to develop a lifesaving cardiac surgery technique to treat “blue baby syndrome,” or infant methemoglobinemia, which occurs when there is not enough oxygen in the blood.

Mr. Thomas, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins in 1976 and was named an instructor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative will permanently pay for 100 new slots for Ph.D. students in more than 30 programs at Johns Hopkins. The first group will enter the university’s Ph.D. programs in the fall of 2022.

“STEM fields play an increasingly important role in developing innovative solutions to a wide range of pressing challenges, yet STEM Ph.D. programs don’t reflect the broad diversity of our country,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. The initiative “will help increase diversity in industries that will pioneer advances we have not yet even imagined and shape the lives of generations to come,” he said.

At the selected institutions, as well as at Johns Hopkins, a total of more than $15 million from the initiative will go to “strengthening pathways for talented undergraduates” to seek Ph.D.s in STEM fields, according to the announcement.

The donation from Mr. Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor and a longtime benefactor of Johns Hopkins, comes amid longstanding concern over the lack of racial diversity on campuses and the rising costs of higher education. In 2018 Mr. Bloomberg donated $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins to create a fund aimed at helping low-income students attend.

In 2018, the New York University School of Medicine announced that it would cover tuition for all of its students, regardless of merit or need, citing concerns about the “overwhelming financial debt” facing graduates. And during a commencement speech in 2019, the billionaire investor Robert F. Smith told the graduating students of Morehouse College, seated in front of him, that he and his family would pay off their student debt.

Still, the lack of racial diversity in STEM doctoral programs has persisted. In announcing the initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins cited a report from the National Science Foundation showing that in 2019, in each of more than 30 scientific fields, fewer than five Ph.D.s had been awarded to Black or Hispanic students in the United States.

For example, in bioinformatics, a subdiscipline of biology and computer science, Ph.D.s were awarded to one Black student, two Hispanic students, 27 Asian students and 103 white students, according to the report.

Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement that “decades of data and our own experience show the persistent truth that Ph.D. programs, particularly in the STEM fields, do not reflect the full spectrum of available talent.”

At Johns Hopkins, 11 percent of students in STEM Ph.D. programs are from historically underrepresented racial groups, compared with an average of 9 percent at other private research universities, according to the statement.

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