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Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative

The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative will endow and launch a major new effort to address historic underrepresentation in STEM. The $150 million effort funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide permanent funding to add a sustained cohort of approximately 100 new slots for diverse PhD students in JHU’s more than 30 STEM programs and to establish and strengthen graduate program pathways for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to pursue and receive PhDs in STEM fields.

The initiative will engage in active outreach to applicants matriculating from HBCU and MSI institutions through the creation of research-intensive summer experiences and post-baccalaureate programs, and will provide direct funding to set of Inaugural Partner HBCUs and MSIs to strengthen existing STEM pathways programs at those institutions or create new ones. As PhD students at Johns Hopkins, Vivien Thomas scholars will receive the academic and financial support needed to ensure their success, including up to six years of full tuition support, a stipend, health insurance and travel funding, along with significant mentorship, research, professional development and community-building opportunities.

Pathways Development

Creating pathways for diverse, talented undergraduates to pursue PhDs in stem fields is a centerpiece of the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative. Summer and post-baccalaureate research experiences, at JHU and elsewhere, have a remarkable record of nurturing interest among talented students to pursue high-level graduate training.  Coupled with mentoring, they are crucial to getting students excited about applying for a STEM PhD, and expanded opportunities for summer and post-baccalaureate experiences at JHU could help fuel an increase in the numbers of students from diverse backgrounds applying for graduate programs in STEM. 

Inter-institutional partnerships have also proven crucial to encouraging diverse scholars to pursue and receive STEM PhDs. The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative includes funding for direct investments in pathway development and partnerships to support an increasingly diverse, inclusive and exceptional STEM workforce. This investment also brings the wisdom and experience of partner institutions to the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative across multiple key components of program success, including through identifying effective outreach strategies, providing guidance on essential program components, and guiding the creation of collaborative structures at partner institutions and JHU alike to support students and excite them about graduate STEM careers.

Inaugural Partners

There are more than 700 federally designated minority-serving institutions, including 456 four-year colleges and universities. In order for the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative to have broad and meaningful reach across these institutions, JHU is working with several leading MSIs and HBCUs as Inaugural Partners in providing expertise, advice and collaboration as we build this ambitious program.

The Inaugural Partner institutions are Howard University; Morehouse College; Morgan State University; Prairie View A&M; Spelman College; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Each Inaugural Partner will receive flexible funding, to be used at the institution’s strategic direction to continue to attract and prepare their undergraduate students for STEM graduate training and STEM careers. Inaugural partners will be critical in advising the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative as a whole, engaging additional MSIs, and identifying the optimal programming for scholars participating in the initiative.

Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Vivien Thomas

Damani Piggott, MD, PhD

The PhD students recruited through this program will be known as the Vivien Thomas Scholars, in recognition of one of Johns Hopkins University’s most celebrated figures. Dr. Thomas (1910–1985) was a renowned Black scientist who is best known for his work to develop a cardiac surgery technique to treat “blue baby syndrome” (Blalock-Taussig shunt) at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1940s—a life-saving advance for which he did not receive credit for decades. Dr. Thomas, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, enrolled as a premedical student at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College, an HBCU in Nashville, but was forced to drop out due to the Great Depression and was never able to enroll in medical school. Despite his lack of an advanced degree, Thomas spent his career as a pioneering research and surgical assistant. In 1976 Dr. Thomas was awarded an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins University and named instructor of surgery in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Portrait of Vivien T. Thomas by Bob Gee, Oil on Canvas, 1969

Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative Academic Leadership

Damani Piggott, MD, PhD

Damani Piggott, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Medicine
Assistant Dean for Graduate Biomedical Education and Graduate Student Diversity
Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Diversity and Partnerships

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