Dean’s Update: October 7, 2022 | College of Human Medicine
October 7, 2022 – Aron Sousa, MD
Last week, the college lost one of its loyal leaders and teachers with the passing of Margaret “Peggy” Thompson, MD, at home and surrounded by family. Peggy started out in college precepting students before becoming the Assistant Community Dean of Grand Rapids. She then became Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and drove us to the Secchia Center. She was always respectful and wise, but she was also willing to take a principled stance. She has consistently made the college a better place for patients, students, faculty and staff. Peggy was a light when it was darkest and lifted us all up when we were down. I miss her and mourn her loss like many of us do. She left way too soon.
When Peggy retired last spring, her colleagues created a scholarship in her name. We asked her to describe the type of student she would like to see receive this scholarship, and she wanted her to support a future generalist with a “go anywhere” attitude. You can read about and support Peggy’s scholarship here as well as other college tribute funds.
Also last week, the National Hispanic Science Network held its 22n/a Annual International Conference at the Secchia Center. The focus of the conference was “Biological and Social Determinants of Drug Use: Addressing Health Inequalities Among Hispanics in the Age of COVID”. The first expert presentation focused on Hispanic health in the community and included representatives from Clinica Santa Maria, Exalta Health, and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan. The organizers were extremely pleased with how the conference went and I really appreciate everyone at the college and at Experience Grand Rapids who helped organize the events.
It’s no coincidence that this conference falls during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the contributions of the Hispanic community to our local and broader society. The college and its alumni have a long history of these contributions.
Engaging with Hispanic communities is an essential part of our work. We are a school of medicine and community public health and always will be. Connecting to the community is at the heart of our educational programs and increasingly anchors our research. Our Community-Based Participatory Research-focused Public Health Division at Flint has a clear focus on community engagement, but a growing number of our lab scientists are moving in that direction as well, including Irving Vega, PhD, Red Cedar Distinguished Faculty, who has extended his work from the Alzheimer’s laboratory to community science with the Hispanic community of West Michigan.
Dr. Vega, in the Department of Translational Neurosciences, draws on his own experience in a Puerto Rican program that has helped him and others underrepresented in the field pursue careers in neuroscience research. You can read more about Dr. Vega’s excellent work with the ENDURE program. You can also read about Dr. Bierema (CHM ’84) and his practice of pediatrics in his own words; and read the aspirations of one of our first students, Joseph Mariscal.
Our LANAMA (Latin American and Native American Medical Association) students organized events throughout the month. They are very active with the Midwest Latino Medical Student Association (MLMSA) and will host the Midwest LMSA in Grand Rapids in February.
Engaging in this type of community science, especially with strong ties to mainstream laboratory science, has the potential to address longstanding systematic biases in currently available science to advance the health of minority populations. You can expect our strategic plan to emphasize community engagement and health equity as key areas of focus.
A specific strategic project designed to expand this work is Project 1964, which will support faculty hires in departments that will expand our scholarship related to diversity, justice, inclusion, and equity. Funding for these positions comes from the program I negotiated when I assumed the role of “less acting” dean last spring. This is the official launch of Project 1964, which was created in conjunction with the new Dean’s Diversity Advisory Committee. I appreciate the work of the committee to help design the program and look forward to reviewing the proposals. You can read more about the project, the submission schedule (due November 30), and the review process (completed by mid-January 2023) on the Project 1964 page. I’m excited about this project and I anticipate the excellent work that these teachers will do in service to our communities.
Serve people with you,
Aron Sousa, MD FACP