‘The Fellows Are Just Rising Stars’; the Sky Is the Limit for APS’s Porter Fellowship

Thanks in part to its Porter Physiology Development Fellowship, the American Physiological Society has been able to go from a mere eight Black members in the early 1960s to more than 1,000 members from groups underrepresented in science today. The program also stands apart for the positive ratings given by Fellows and their transitions into esteemed careers.” SIIA’s inaugural IMPACT Awards judges agreed and named the program one of 10 2022 winners.

One of the most impressive attributes about the program is that APS staffers work hard to keep the Fellows involved in the Society in following years.

“We started a Meet the Fellow Twitter campaign where we show an image of the Fellow, provide their name and the institution where they are conducting their research and host it on Twitter,” Brooke Bruthers, director of member communities for APS, told me a few weeks ago. “And we get [excellent] engagement on every single one of those tweets which is really exciting… Some of the Fellows are also now on our DEI Committee.”

Bruthers also told me about a former Porter Fellow who she got to know at diversity conferences who’s “an associate professor, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years as she’s moved from New Orleans to Texas, and she’ll be coming out to our office in a couple of weeks for a strategic planning meeting. So I’m looking forward to seeing her again.”

The Porter Fellowship is the Society’s flagship diversity program. Over the last 55 years, the program has supported underrepresented racial and ethnic minority scientists in their pursuit of education and training in the physiological sciences, as well as retention in physiology careers. The Fellowship is unique in the STEM field in part because of its longevity and for the unique mentorship and large stipend ($28,300) it provides.

In this third winner Q&A in our IMPACT Awards series, Bruthers talks more about this amazing program.

AMPLIFY: You’ve worked at APS and on the Porter Fellowship for a long time.
Brooke Bruthers: Yes, the program’s always been near and dear to my heart. The Fellows are just rising stars of physiology. It’s really exciting to work with them as graduate students and then to see them be successful and grow in their careers, and get engaged with APS in governance and leadership positions. I’d say it’s a boutique fellowship experience. We fund up to eight graduate students each year. So it’s a small cohort but we’re very proud of them.

When I hear about successful programs like this, I always ask about the culture. It must be an important part of who you are as an organization.
Brooke: It is, and we have buy-in from the leadership and support from our CEO, from our Council, our presidents, all of our members and leadership roles. So it’s been kind of just that. But it’s very important that the DEI values and culture that we have within APS are [implemented] across the board.

Tell me more about the Fellowship and a report that was done.
Brooke: Our Porter Fellows go through a professional development course where they learn about networking, publishing and scholarly journals. They learn about what’s called, My Individual Development Plan. So [they do] career planning and work with our members and leadership positions. So we wanted to take those program activities and evaluate them, which we did. We’ve done that for a long time, but those five years (2016-20) is where the report focuses on, and it just showed gains and skills and knowledge in all of those areas. So we were pleased to be able to highlight that the program impacts are positive and it’s working for our Fellows.

I’m impressed by how you work to keep them engaged beyond their fellowships. That’s valuable.
Brooke: Yes, and that’s still an area for improvement. We just engaged with the consulting firm who conducted a baseline assessment of our membership and gave us a series of recommendations. We are about to meet with the DEI Committee to prioritize those areas and essentially have an action plan for how we can move the needle forward. I’m hoping that we are going to really look at goals and measurable objectives. We have the baseline data. So now, what are our next steps to keep this moving? How do we continue to keep the Porter Fellows engaged with the organization and in the pipeline of leadership positions? And we’ve started to do some of that work with a governance task force. But there’s more to come. It’s a journey. We’re just going to continue on this journey and hopefully make things better.

It really is a collaborative effort!
Brooke: Yes, we’re really myself, Teresa Ramirez and Emma Hedman [on this]. But we worked with Kirsten Gossett to create the report and put it in the beautiful format that we have. We also worked with Erica Roth, who takes care of all of our Twitter. And then the mentoring Q&A portion in the magazine Melanie Padgett Powers helps with. She’s fantastic. We provide her the list of our Porter Fellows and where they are, what their areas of research are, what their career path and development questions are, and then she pairs them with an expert for the magazine. It’s a real team effort.

Congratulations again!



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