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'Behind the Blue': Addressing Underrepresented Minorities in Research Programs With Mark Prendergast

By Kody Kiser and Carl Nathe

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 30, 2020) — Coming from a large family in Nebraska, Mark Prendergast grew up with a desire to help others.

Prendergast, the director of the Neuroscience Bachelor of Science degree program in the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, has used that desire to find demonstrative ways to increase the number of students of color in the neuroscience field.

“We have a longstanding commitment to addressing issues of diversity, inclusivity and equity,” Prendergast said. “And one of our most important missions as faculty and scientists is to train the next generation of scientists and professors. And we have to, absolutely must do that, with diversity, inclusivity and equity in mind.”

From 2013-2019, he co-directed a National Institutes of Health funded research training program for undergraduate students. The 10-week lab course studied alcohol at different levels of analysis, including cellular, behavioral and social. Prendergast says their mission was to address underrepresented minorities in the program.

In 2020, Prendergast began working with Joe Springer, director of the UK Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, to develop the African American Research Training Scholars Program. The program funds up to five 12-month awards for undergraduate students who identify as Black or African American to work in a laboratory studying spinal cord injury or neurotrauma.

On this episode of "Behind the Blue," UK Public Relations and Strategic Communication’s Carl Nathe talks with Prendergast about developing partnerships across campus, keeping students engaged in programs with work opportunities and mentorships, and more.

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The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.