Michele Allen, MD, MS, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, earned the 2021 Carole J. Bland Award. Established in memory of Carole J. Bland, PhD, a long-time faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, the award recognizes outstanding faculty mentors and highlights how mentorship fosters a supportive, positive working environment. 

“I think of mentoring in terms of supporting junior faculty and postdoctoral students, but for me, mentoring is really this idea of wanting to help support the creation of a more diverse clinical and research faculty workforce,” Dr. Allen said.

Dr. Allen, who’s been U of M faculty since 2015, directs the Program in Health Disparities Research and holds the Endowed Chair of Health Equity Research. Dr. Allen was nominated for the award by the Center for Women in Medicine and Science (CWIMS), along with one of her mentees.

“I’m very appreciative of my peers in CWIMS, who are doing wonderful work thinking about how to support recognition for female faculty,” Dr. Allen said.

She also co-leads two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. The first, the M-ASCEND Program, is a partnership between the Program in Health Disparities Research and the Masonic Cancer Center, and is also funded by the National Cancer Institute. The program is focused on high school and undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, and aims to promote their development and progress toward careers in cancer research.

“We try to get them interested in sciences and research, particularly cancer research,” Dr. Allen said. “We have a high school program that we piloted this year across the Twin Cities.”

Through the program, 10 high school and 10 undergraduate students work with Dr. Allen’s team over the summer, gaining the knowledge, skills and self-efficacy needed for success in an academic environment. The other grant that she co-leads, a collaboration with the School of Public Health, is the T32 Cancer Disparities Training Program for pre and postdoctoral students who seek training in community-engaged research aimed at reducing cancer-related health disparities.

“Our intention is to do two things: diversify the research workforce and train people to do cancer-focused health equity research,” Dr. Allen said. “I think of mentorship from that big perspective of trying to support people’s interests starting at the high school level and moving all the way through into clinical or research roles.”

The award places an emphasis on Dr. Bland’s passion for mentoring other faculty, recognizing its crucial role in faculty development and retention.

“The grant is meaningful because Dr. Carole J. Bland was faculty in the Department of Family Medicine,” Dr. Allen said. “It is really clear to me, both as a woman and someone who understands what mentorship means, the legacy of Dr. Bland’s work. I want to elevate and show my appreciation for that.”