UL Lafayette and UL System Reginald F. Lewis Scholars Awarded $1 Million Grant from National Science Foundation to Launch Groundbreaking Program to Address the Talent and Diversity Gap in Biotechnology Workforce

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in collaboration with the University of Louisiana System’s Reginald F. Lewis Scholars, is receiving a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to launch the groundbreaking AddreSSing the TalEnt and DiversiTy Gap in Biotechnology Workforce (ASSET) program. The grant will fund a high-impact summer cohort program for Black male students across Louisiana led by UL Lafayette’s undergraduate research program and CGI’s U.S. Onshore Delivery Center in Lafayette. 

The program is led by Dr. Kumer P. Das, Assistant Vice President of Research and Innovation at UL Lafayette, who serves as the program’s principal investigator. The co-principal investigators are Dr. Claire Norris, UL System Vice President for Advancement, Dr. Sherry Krayesky-Self, Director of the Student Center for Research, Creativity, and Scholarship at UL Lafayette, and Ms. Jacquelyn Schultz Craddock of CGI. 

“This initiative promises to pave a transformative path, empowering minds and shaping futures for these students. It will herald a new era of opportunity in the STEM field and ultimately lead to a more diversified workforce,” said Dr. Das.  

The ASSET program emerged from the urgent need to address the underrepresentation of Black students in STEM fields. In 2021, nearly 47 percent of white males graduated in STEM fields, compared to only 3 percent of Black males. Recognizing these disparities and their impact on the future workforce, this program will leverage the success of the Reginald F. Lewis Scholars to address the talent and diversity gap in the biotechnology industry. 

“This grant empowers us to deliver the exact experience we’ve envisioned for our Scholars,” Dr. Claire Norris, UL System vice president for advancement and RFL Scholar Program director said. “The ASSET program infuses practicality and industry knowledge into the Scholars’ development bridging the gap between academia and the professional world. “ 

The RFL Scholars program recruits Black males from each of the nine University of Louisiana System member institutions and provides educational, community, and social experiences for its cohorts. The ASSET program will fulfill the undergraduate research and internship requirements built into the Scholars curriculum.  

Among the largest IT and business consulting services firms in the world, CGI has a commitment to building a more inclusive and sustainable world through engagement in the communities they serve. CGI experts will lead professional development workshops, familiarize Scholars with industry culture, and serve as mentors throughout the process.  

“Excellence in life sciences is not a destination, but a journey fueled by relentless curiosity, unwavering dedication, and a commitment to unraveling the mysteries of nature. CGI is honored to partner with the University of Louisiana System on this journey in providing Reginald F. Lewis Scholars with embedded undergraduate research opportunities and CGI internships, all culminating in innovation and discovery,” said Ravi Shankar, Senior Vice-President of CGI’s Mid-Atlantic operations. “Receiving this prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation is a testament to CGI’s collaborative spirit, transforming lives, and pursuit to shape the future of life sciences.”  

“CGI’s partnership with the state of Louisiana, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, and UL Lafayette has helped to create more than 700 new technology jobs across Acadiana since 2014,” stated William LaBar, Vice-President of CGI’s U.S. Onshore Delivery Center in Lafayette. “As we head into our 10-year anniversary of this partnership, we are extremely excited to work with UL Lafayette to bring this unique experiential learning opportunity to Lewis Scholars from across the state and to do so with an intentional eye towards increasing the diversity of our Health and Life Science teams supporting clients around the world from CGI’s Lafayette Center of Excellence.” 

Beginning in October 2023, the dollars will be used to support RFL Scholar research and internship opportunities.