News Release

BIPOC mentoring program offers a model for public health education

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

The Mentoring of Students and Igniting Community (MOSAIC) program at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health offers a new model to support the academic and professional development of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) and first-generation public health students. More broadly, MOSAIC aims to improve BIPOC success and sense of belonging in schools of public health and the public health workforce.

A new article in the journal Pedagogy in Health Promotion reviews the unique features of MOSAIC, its rapid growth, and potential as a model for additional schools of public health. The article is authored by Goleen Samari and Stephanie Grilo, Columbia Mailman faculty members who created MOSAIC, and Monét Bryant, research assistant at MOSAIC.

Mentorship is known to be key to academic and professional success, yet BIPOC students often express greater difficulty in reaching out to potential mentors and developing a relationship with them. Studies have documented the impact of threats to belonging—the feeling of being unseen, unwelcome, or unrepresented—not only on academic achievement but also on health itself.

MOSAIC uses a group mentorship model with faculty mentors of color who offer support in navigating and succeeding in academic life, with special attention to their ongoing projects and challenges, as well as advice on professional development. MOSAIC also fosters community through group activities and leadership and career development workshops, including those led by alumni.

Unique features of MOSAIC include the involvement of faculty, staff, and alumni; its flexibility to meet changing student needs; and an approach that foregrounds the fight against oppression and racism, at the personal, institutional, and systemic levels.     

The authors reviewed mentorship programs at the top 20 schools of public health and related schools of medicine and general health programs. Several offer student mentorship programs; however, the majority of programs do not offer faculty-to-student mentoring.

“We believe that MOSAIC’s comprehensive approach that includes faculty, staff, alumni, can be replicated at other schools of public health to provide necessary support and mentorship for BIPOC students,” says founding faculty Goleen Samari, and Stephanie Grilo assistant professors of population and family health at Columbia Mailman.

MOSAIC’s Rapid Growth

MOSAIC membership in the first year included two departments in the school of public health and a total of 26 students. In the second year, the membership increased fourfold to 96 students. Staff who identify as BIPOC or first-generation have also become increasingly involved.

As MOSAIC has expanded and as MOSAIC students have graduated and become alumni, the alumni involvement has also increased from the 2019 academic year to the 2021 academic year. Alumni involvement is critical as it increases the amount of mentorship students receive and connects them beyond their two short years in graduate school, the authors write.

“The growth of MOSAIC is likely rooted in its ability to create community between faculty and students, reaffirm BIPOC and first-generation students belonging in a school of public health, and challenge systems of racism that are pervasive in institutions of higher education,” say founding faculty Goleen Samari, and Stephanie Grilo assistant professors of population and family health at Columbia Mailman.

“MOSAIC has been instrumental to my personal growth and professional development. MOSAIC continues to foster a nurturing, supportive, and inclusive environment for underrepresented students like myself to thrive in spaces that have historically marginalized and disregarded them,” says Monét Bryant, an MPH student in the Department of Population and Family Health and study co-author.

A Larger Commitment to Fighting Oppression and Racism

MOSAIC is one part of a larger Columbia Mailman FORWARD (Fighting Oppression, Racism and White Supremacy through Action, Research and Discourse) initiative whose goals include building: an anti-racist institutional culture and environment; a strong pipeline of BIPOC students and then into the field of public health beyond the School; new cohorts of BIPOC faculty and staff who are fully supported and have the resources needed to launch their careers; a broad program of authentic, active and ongoing engagements with local, marginalized communities; a more robust school-wide health equities, systemic racism, and structural violence research effort. Alongside MOSAIC, BIPOC students can also take part in the R.I.S.E. (Resilience, Inclusion, Solidarity, and Empowerment) a peer mentorship program.

“With mentorship that includes strong institutional support and guidance throughout education, BIPOC students are better equipped to enter the public health field, leading to higher representation from BIPOC and other systemically marginalized groups,” says Michael Joseph, vice dean of education at Columbia Mailman. “A diverse public health workforce, trained at inclusive institutions of public health, is critical in ensuring health disparities are effectively addressed.”

“Racial equity and social justice are at our core, from education to research to community engagement and beyond,” says Dean Linda P. Fried. “Across our School, faculty, staff, students, and alumni have joined together to vigorously pursue a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable public health, in everything we do.”

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