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DIVRO: Encouraging diversity through summer internships

2017 DIVRO Class
The 2017 DIVRO Class at the NIH Poster Day (left to right): Alejandra Maiz, Adam Lazere, Maria Rios, Daniel Lulli, Natalia Santiago, Kaifa Boyce, Nicole Pannullo, Fatima Gomez, Karina Navarro, and Emile Vieta Ferrer. Kneeling in front is NEI Training Director Cesar Perez-Gonzalez. 

Encouraging diversity is more than doing the right thing. It makes science better by incorporating unique perspectives, strategies, and solutions.

The NEI launched the Diversity in Vision Research and Ophthalmology summer internship program in 2011 to address the underrepresentation of specific communities in science. Our hope was that we could persuade talented young people to pursue careers in vision research if we offered them a hands-on experience that tempted their curiosity and helped them tap into the vision research community.

A decade later, we’re seeing our efforts pay off. DIVRO has supported more than 80 summer interns. Nearly half were college students. About a quarter were medical school students, with the remainder a mix of high school and graduate students.

Modupe Adetunji plus group
Left, DIVRO intern Modupe “Funmi” Adetunji (2014-2016), now an ophthalmology resident at Duke University. At right, Adentunji in 2015 with members of the Tomarev lab. 

Modupe Adetunji joined NEI for summers during and after her undergraduate training at Princeton University. She worked in the Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology with Stanislav Tomarev. With Tomarev and colleagues, she authored a 2017 paper on the neuroprotective effects of platelet-derived growth factor in a mouse model of glaucoma. She returned to NEI briefly after her first year of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. She is now an ophthalmology resident at Duke University.

Alexis Warren
Alexis Warren

Alexis Warren interned with the late Robert Nussenblatt in the NEI Laboratory of Immunology in 2014 after her first year of medical school at the University of Kansas. She was Chief Resident at the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and is now completing a vitreoretinal surgery fellowship at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Emile Vieta Ferrer was a 2017 DIVRO intern in the NEI Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch under the mentorship of Brian Brooks while a medical school at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine. Emile returned to NEI after medical school for postdoctoral fellowship and is now a resident in ophthalmology and medical genetics at the University of California Los Angeles. He appears to be walking in the footsteps of Dr. Brooks, who is NEI’s clinical director, but we’ll be proud wherever he ends up. 

Check out NEI’s training page to learn details about DIVRO and other NEI training opportunities. In a nutshell, DIVRO interns spend 8 to 12 weeks of summer at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, working closely with leading research scientists in the NEI Intramural Research Program. Participants help plan experiments, learn hands-on skills in the lab, and attend topical workshops and seminars. We provide a monthly stipend, commensurate with  education. The program culminates in August when interns present their research at the NIH summer intern poster day. COVID-19 restrictions canceled 2020 summer training programs and in 2021 they went virtual, but we’re hopeful that in summer 2022 trainees will be back on campus. 

Questions about summer training programs can be directed to NEI Training Director Cesar Perez-Gonzalez,

Michael F. Chiang, M.D.

Last updated: September 14, 2022