Kelly Stevens Selected for National Academies New Voices Cohort

Faculty headshot of Kelly R. Stevens, PhDISCRM faculty member Kelly Stevens is one of 22 early career leaders nationwide selected by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (SEM) for the 2021-2023 New Voices Cohort, an initiative launched in 2018 to engage diverse perspectives on the convening and advisory functions of the National Academies.

Stevens is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Working at the intersection of biofabrication and regenerative biology, the Stevens lab develops technologies to map and assemble artificial human organs.

In one recent breakthrough, Stevens and her collaborators in the Brotman Baty Institute and the Department of Genome Sciences detailed a new technology, called Sci-Space, that could lead to four-dimensional molecular atlases of thousands of individual cells during embryonic development of mammals. The research was published in the July 2 edition of Science.

The New Voices cohort will connect National Academy of SEM leadership to rising experts around the country and internationally to build an Academy that reflects diversity in discipline, gender, ethnic background, and geography. Stevens is well-suited for that role. She co-founded and now co-leads a movement that has grown to include more than 400 faculty members in bioengineering who are working together to improve inclusion and equity in their field.

Through a thriving Slack channel and coast-to-coast Zoom meetings, Stevens and her colleagues around the country have identified several actions to help ensure that the demographics of bioengineering faculty match the diversity of the United States by 2031. The first step is to educate faculty and department chairs on the realities of racism, both within the Academy and broadly throughout biomedical research. The second step is to dismantle discriminatory barriers that prevent faculty from achieving their full potential. The third step is to diversify institutional structures at all levels.

Earlier this year, twenty members of this group issued a call to action in a commentary (“Fund Black Scientists”) published in the journal Cell. In that article, the authors brought attention to one critical barrier that holds racially underrepresented scientists back: a significant gap in federal grant funding that impedes the careers of Black scientists and perpetuates broader inequities in community health. Stevens is the lead and co-corresponding author of the article. Omalola Eniola-Adefeso, PhD, Associate Dean and University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, is the paper’s senior co-corresponding author.

For Stevens, the invitation from the National Academies goes hand-in-hand with her role in the movement swelling in the bioengineering community.

“It’s an incredible honor. It’s a chance to make connections, to learn from my colleagues, and to collectively push the field to become more inclusive, not just by expanding the pipeline, but by throwing the door open at the leadership level. If we’re going to do science and engineering ethically, and with the most impact, innovation, and power, we have to diversify the academy, up to the highest levels.  We have to start at the top.”