Partnering for Success with Minority Serving Institutes: The Story of Fisk

A recent gathering at Fisk University with Sanjukta Hota (center, in red) and Suzanne Lenhart (to Hota’s left)

“The pursuit of knowledge and understanding is enriched by an environment in which people of diverse backgrounds learn together and from each other, and participate in free and genuine exchanges of views.” (University of Tennessee Diversity Action Plan)

Since its beginnings in 2008, NIMBioS has fostered strong collaborations in areas of research, science and education with several Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). In signed joint agreements, the primary goal has been to cultivate a more diverse group of researchers capable of conducting research at the math/biology interface.

One of the most productive partnerships has been with Fisk University. From the beginning, the NIMBioS Education and Outreach team has worked closely with Sanjukta Hota, an associate professor of mathematics at Fisk University.

Hota’s research focuses on developing mathematical models on human respiratory dynamics, artificial ventilation, HIV control and other optimization models.

The collaboration with Fisk has involved helping write successful grant proposals, co-authoring research articles, as well as supporting NIMBioS postdoctoral visits to Fisk classrooms and supporting Fisk students in the NIMBioS Summer Research Experience for undergraduates program and the NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics.

Dr. Folashade Agusto (right), then a NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellow, visits Dr. Hota and Fisk University students to present her model of avian influenza. December 2010. Agusto is now an assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at The University of Kansas.
Ashish Gauli (far left) was a student in the 2015 Summer Research Experiences program. Gauli along with his SRE teammates Nathan Wikle (center) and Ryan Yan (far right) developed an award-winning interactive website to help track invasive species using global shipping routes.

The collaboration has reinvigorated the STEM disciplines at Fisk and created new opportunities.

“Partnering with NIMBioS has been extremely beneficial to the STEM faculty and students of Fisk University. It has enabled a number of Fisk faculty to engage in research in various bio-mathematical topics and has provided excellent opportunities for many of our students to participate in research conferences, seminars and internship programs,” Hota said.

“The informal and friendly research atmosphere at NIMBioS and the valuable research advice and suggestions provided by Dr. Suzanne Lenhart, Dr. Lou Gross and other research personnel associated with NIMBioS are of great inspiration to Fisk students and faculty,” Hota added.

One of the new STEM avenues is the establishment of a new interdisciplinary program on biomathematics and bionformatics, which Hota directs. Hota is Principal Investigator on the funding from the National Science Foundation that supports the development of the new program.

NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach Suzanne Lenhart has been an external advisor to the new program.

“Dr. Lenhart’s input and constructive suggestions in all our committee meetings and seminars has been very helpful in making our program successful,” Hota said.

Other joint agreements at NIMBioS have been signed with California State University-San Marcos, Howard University, Tennessee State University, and University of Texas-El Paso.

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