CSU Biology Professor Gregory Florant (center) received a Network of Minority Health Research Investigators bronze medallion award. He is pictured here with Dr. Lincoln Edwards, president of Northern Caribbean University and chair of the NMRI planning committee (left), and Dr. Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (right).
Around campus, Department of Biology Professor Gregory Florant might be best known for his work with marmots and other hibernating mammals in the College of Natural Sciences. But outside of Colorado State University, he is a founding – and active – member of the National Institutes of Health’s Network of Minority Health Research Investigators. His leadership role in the group was recognized this spring with the NMRI Medallion at that group’s annual meeting in Bethesda, Maryland.
The same language
Florant was among the original handful of underrepresented researchers in the field who, 15 years ago, looked around and saw a need for networking and mentoring among their peers. And they got to work, creating the NMRI with funding from the NIH and that group’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
What started as a group of 15 or 20 M.D.s and Ph.D.s has grown into an organization of hundreds of researchers at all stages in their careers. “We have members who are National Academy of Sciences members, and we have members who are postdocs who are just starting out.” Nevertheless, Florant said, “we feel like we’re all on a level playing field.” He said, “there are no hidden agendas, you don’t have to worry about what people think of you.”
Having this group, Florant said, “is extremely important because this is a group of minority investigators – who have similar challenges in their careers. So we speak the same language around hardships and barriers that we’ve had to overcome to get to where a lot of us are.”
The network is also inclusive, Florant explained. “The term ‘minority investigators’ is very broadly interpreted – and there are some non-minorities who are in the group and who have significantly helped,” he said.
Florant and other NMRI members serve as mentors, colleagues and resources. “We’re able to look at a lot of different issues, and we are able to help solve problems that come up [for others],” Florant said – whether that is finding a collaborator or best assisting a struggling graduate student. Anyone in the organization is just an email or phone call away, he noted.
Beyond the formal award he received, Florant said the real reward for him is to see so many of his former mentees from the group progress, succeed – and receive awards of their own. “It’s nice to be recognized for the time and effort I have provided to younger investigators and to see them flourish and to see them do better than me – that’s the goal,” he said. “The honor is really going back and meeting with people we had mentored and discussing exciting ideas.”
In addition to mentoring, over the years, Florant has also helped raise funds, invite speakers, and organized workshops for the network.
He plans to continue his involvement with the group – likely even beyond his someday retirement from CSU. “This group will continue to grow,” he said. And he is looking forward to being there for its new members.