When the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation was established, its mission was focused on spinal cord injury (SCI), so of course we were inclusive, right? Our intentions were there but we weren’t thinking about inclusivity beyond the needs of people living with SCI. Over the last 20 years, we’ve continually questioned how we achieve our mission and asked: ‘Are we doing our best to ensure that the Foundation’s decisions are reflective of its values?’ Establishing a broader programmatic mindset, as well as encouraging greater diversity in the scientific community, allows us to put inclusion—one of our five values—into action.
To support and grow a more inclusive scientific environment, earlier this year the Foundation allocated $1 million to promote our Research Inclusion Supplements. Our goal is to encourage our current research grantee partners to recruit and support undergraduate and/or graduate students from groups that are historically underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, and social sciences. Including students from diverse backgrounds, especially those with disabilities, early in their academic careers in the SCI research process will help evolve the priorities of the field with new ideas and perspectives on issues relating to people living with SCI.
Paralysis touches the lives of people from all parts of our society, so attracting students from many backgrounds to the field of SCI research is a priority. To support the growth of the future scientific workforce, we see it as a responsibility to be more intentional in this effort. If the Neilsen Foundation of tomorrow is looking to learn from a more diverse group of experts, we must help build that today.
At the end of 2022, we invited 40 current grantees to apply for a Research Inclusion Supplement. The feedback has been encouraging so far, as we consider the first round of applications. “I’m really excited,” Neilsen Foundation Program Officer Jacob Shreckengost says. “We had people come in from racially and culturally underrepresented backgrounds, as well as people with disabilities. We’re hitting the places we’re supposed to be hitting.”
As the opportunity to apply for a Research Inclusion Supplement expands, we hope grantee partners will start recruiting more students with disabilities and from other underrepresented backgrounds into their labs. We are hopeful that our efforts will encourage others to think about how they can be more intentional and start their own inclusion journey. Imagine—this could lead to a future in which disability, race, culture, and gender will no longer present barriers for students hoping to improve the lives of people living with spinal cord injury.