Underrepresented Members Committee Retreat

On 2-3 December 2005, the Underrepresented Members Committee (UMC) held a retreat at ASM Headquarters. The mission of the committee is to promote full and complete participation of all of ASM's diverse membership at all levels of the Society, with a special focus on racial and ethnic minority members. Volunteers present included Maureen Wright, chair; committee members Maria Alvarez, Arnold Demain, and Lizzie Harrell; George W. Counts, past chair; and Toby K. Eisenstein, chair, Membership Board. The committee discussed its past initiatives and future goals, in particular, its minority volunteer recruitment efforts, the Minority Mentoring Program, and future opportunities for outreach to minority microbiologists.


Since its establishment in 1997, the committee has worked diligently to establish new and innovative programs. These efforts include the minority volunteer recruitment campaign, collection of demographic data, the Faces of ASM article series in ASM News/Microbe, and cosponsorship of the Minority Mixer and Minority Affairs Booth at the ASM General Meeting. Support for these programs has been historically positive from ASM members and leaders. To encourage the inclusion of minority microbiologists in the ASM volunteer structure, the committee will continue to promote the importance of diversity to committee chairs and journal editors.


The committee also addressed how its efforts can be increased at the General Meeting. The committee feels that direct interaction with minority members is important in communicating the sense of support these individuals associate with ASM. Thus, the committee plans to increase its involvement in the Student Lounge and facilitate face-to-face interaction between members and online mentors of the Minority Mentoring Program. The committee will host “Meet the Mentor” hours at the Minority Affairs Booth which all online mentors will be encouraged to attend.


One of the UMC's most important initiatives is the Minority  Mentoring Program. Established in February 2005, support for the program has been overwhelmingly positive, with almost 300 ASM members signed up as online mentors. Through the Minority Mentoring Program website, any individual can search the mentor database and contact volunteers matching their mentoring needs. In November, the committee surveyed the online mentors for feedback about the frequency with which they have been contacted and the mentoring needs of individuals who have contacted them. Based on the responses from the online mentors, the committee will update the Minority Mentoring Program with new features to enhance the website. These features will include a guide for mentorees explaining how to best contact mentors and pursue an online mentoring relationship, and revisions to the website for the most useful presentation of mentor information for mentorees.


The committee discussed increasing outreach to minority microbiologists in new arenas. The committee plans to promote the establishment of ASM Student Chapters at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions and is currently developing a model for successful outreach at these institutions. Additionally, the committee discussed how it can increase its participation at minority science meetings to reach the member population it is dedicated to serving. The committee also plans to work more closely with community college faculty and minority science associations to share information about the UMC and its support of minority microbiologists.  


The committee continues to be committed to working collaboratively with ASM's other minority-focused committees through the Minority Coalition. For the committee, the retreat was productive and successful in helping to examine current initiatives and plans for future activities. As the UMC moves forward, it welcomes feedback from all ASM members.