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CSUSM Wins National Prize for DEIA Excellence in Research Spaces

Cal State San Marcos is one of 10 universities nationwide to receive a $100,000 prize from the National Institutes of Health for demonstrating exceptional dedication and innovation in fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility within research environments.

CSUSM was announced recently as among 10 recipients of the NIH Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize. The award is given by the NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) team.

Of the 10 winners, CSUSM is one of only three that are considered limited-resource institutions (LRIs). NIH defines LRIs, among other criteria, as “institutions that have a documented mission to serve historically underrepresented populations in biomedical and behavioral research.”

CSUSM received the NIH prize specifically for the work of the Center for Research, Training and Educational Excellence (CTREE), the mission of which is to enhance the educational and research experiences of students from underserved backgrounds in higher education. CTREE is led by director Denise Garcia, a biology professor, and associate director Richard Armenta, a kinesiology professor.

“The establishment and operation of CTREE represent a university-wide achievement,” Garcia said. “Our success is attributed to exceptional administrators who recognized and supported our vision, dedicated staff tirelessly managing our programs and grants, and amazing faculty members who generously invest their time as research mentors for our students. Above all, our achievements are fueled by the remarkable efforts of our incredible students, who wholeheartedly strive to turn their dreams into reality.”

CTREE was founded in 2002 as the Office and Training, Research and Education in the Sciences (OTRES). The name was changed two years ago when OTRES achieved center status, which allowed it to centralize services normally housed in multiple offices to offer an array of resources, including comprehensive academic advising, research support and mentorship, research and ethics training, and community building among like-minded students.  

In its new iteration, CTREE has witnessed rapid expansion in program offerings and student outreach, growing from directly supporting 40 students to more than 90. There has been a corresponding spike in annual funding, which has increased from $827,144 to nearly $3 million since 2019, and in the rate of students who go on to doctoral programs (from 69% to 95%).

“We are honored to receive the NIH Institutional Excellence Prize, which acknowledges the impactful strides we’ve made in creating an inclusive and equitable environment for students to thrive at CSUSM,” Armenta said. “We are committed to providing opportunities for students from minoritized backgrounds to succeed in higher education, and this award will help us expand the mission of CTREE and CSUSM.”

CTREE houses nine federal- and state-funded programs that provide multiple entry points during a student’s education, allowing for flexibility in admissions. Each program provides students with research opportunities, seminars, workshops and peer mentoring.

In addition to student support, CTREE plays an instrumental role in faculty development. This includes engaging with new hires to facilitate grant submissions and providing resources, training and mentorship to faculty to ensure that they can best support students from minoritized backgrounds.

CTREE also has built valuable partnerships with local community colleges Palomar and MiraCosta, and prominent institutions such as UC San Diego, San Diego State and Scripps Research.