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Student Retention & Support Initiatives

Office of Multicultural Affairs

Within the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Multicultural Affairs & Student Inclusion is dedicated to supporting positive outcomes for all students socially and academically.

We strive to create an environment of holistic support that includes peer and professional tutoring, career training and advisement, skills enhancement workshops, and academic counseling to guide historically underrepresented students toward the completion of a degree in medicine. Program services are designed to increase recruitment, retention and placement of eligible students in severe shortage areas. The program helps the scholars realize the importance of academic stability, networking, volunteering, and research, all of which are imperative to ensure success.

Office of Academic Support

The Office of Academic Support is a resource for all students. The office works closely with admissions, faculty, staff, advisors, and the curriculum office to identify students that are in academic jeopardy. Academic support for these students includes academic advising, addressing topics such as time management, note and test taking skills, and study techniques. Peer tutoring and workshops are also available.

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Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program (CSTEP)

Targeted diversity categories: Black/African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, Low Socioeconomic Status

Description: CSTEP is a New York grant with the purpose of increasing the number of students from under-represented groups that are pursuing professional licensure and careers in health-related fields. In the 2015-2020 cycle, CSTEP was funded at Upstate for 75 students. In 2015, 110 eligible students applied and Upstate leadership agreed to provide the funding to enroll and support the additional students. Each year after that, application numbers increased, and each year the University supported the larger roster. In 2019-20, 146 students were a part of the CSTEP program, which was an increase from the 135 students in 2018-19.

For the 2020-2025 cycle, Upstate was awarded funding for 160 students. This additional funding will continue to support the expanding CSTEP program. The program includes multiple initiatives that are listed below:

  • STEP 1 Series: MS2 students in CSTEP meet once a month to discuss their preparation for STEP 1
  • Wellness programs: Each semester there are two to three programs that focus on stress relief
  • Walk in Wednesdays: Students meet once a month to discuss topics such as research, academic support, and peer-to-peer support
  • Welcome Events: One event is held in the fall semester and one in the spring semester
  • CSTEP/Multicultural Lounge: Students have a dedicated space on campus focusing on diversity issues
  • Student Check-in Meetings: Students meet with a designated person to discuss their academic progress
  • Academic Resources: Students receive NBME codes for Step 1 and Clerkship practice exams.

Dean's Distinction Award

Description: The intent of the Dean's Distinction Awards is to identify incoming medical students who demonstrate need and exemplify the mission and goals of SUNY Upstate Medical University. The award is aimed at lowering the burden of debt for medical students and recruiting outstanding candidates for Upstate. Elements taken into consideration include academics, application information, estimated family contribution, total student debt, household income, household size, and other funds that a student may be receiving. Other factors considered are: under-represented minority, rural student, or first-generation college student. Recipients will be incoming medical
students, chosen by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid using the social and financial information described above. The award will cover tuition and housing at Geneva for all four years of medical school and include a $5,000 stipend per year. The award is given to full-time students and is applied directly to the student's account. As a result, the recipient'’s loans will be reduced. Students are be notified by the Admissions Office that they have been awarded the scholarship.

Diversity categories target for program: Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Rural, First Generation

Responsible individual: Jennifer Welch, Associate Dean Admissions & Financial Aid

Funding Source: College of Medicine Dean's Office

Organizational Locus: Admissions & Financial Aid

Factuality the Game

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: In fall 2020, all new students will participate in a 90-minute online exercise called Factuality the Game that fosters awareness of social injustice and structural racism. This will add to overall campus awareness of the issues and we hope will be one small experience along with many others to contribute to a culture of inclusivity. Campus culture is one of many things that contribute to retention. If this is well-received we hope to expand participation to all students and to faculty.

GME Communication

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: The associate dean for graduate medical education began giving all incoming residents and fellows a copy of the Gardner's Tale article by Dr. Camara Jones that brings up issues related to diversity and institutionalized racism. This is an awareness-raising piece that we hope will also contribute to a culture of inclusivity.

Implicit/Unconscious Bias Professional Training & Development

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: In 2019-20, leaders from the Upstate Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), Office of Institutional Equity, and the College of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion collaborated to create new campus-wide training programs on implicit/unconscious bias. The curriculum is based on research from higher education and the corporate sector and on results from university climate surveys. Modules are being beta-tested in the College of Medicine and will be offered to other sectors of the Upstate community after assessment. The training programs aim to assist the campus community in advancing its efforts to be a welcoming, inclusive environment for learning, leading and innovation. The modules include videos and an in-person briefing, and advance through three levels: Beginner–Overcome Unconscious Bias; Intermediate–Addressing Intersectionality; and Advanced–Sustaining an Inclusive Organization. Attendance at one or more training sessions is elective in 2020-21 for all College of Medicine students, faculty and staff.

Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA)

Description: Upstate’s Latino Medical Student Association is a part of the national LMSA organization. The mission for LMSA exists to unite and empower current and future physicians through service, mentorship, and education to advocate for the improved health of the Hispanic & Latina/o/x community in the United States. Upstate’s LMSA holds events for students to talk about Latino/x culture such as trivia or social media campaigns to inform others on the needs of the Latino/x community.  

Diversity categories target for program: Hispanic/Latino, Rural

Responsible individual:  Steven Contreras, Director of Student Retention

Funding Source: Campus activities budget

Organizational Locus: Student Affairs

Learning Communities

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: The Learning Communities were redesigned for the 2020-21 academic year to reorganize the identity and programming to reflect the role of medical professionals in a broader societal context to promote equity and inclusion. The Learning Communities are described on the Learning Community website.


Targeted diversity categories: Black/African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, Low Socioeconomic Status, Female

Description: In 2020, the College of Medicine invested in MedSchoolTutors to support students identified as high risk for USMLE Step 1 failure. These students were identified through a multivariate analysis including performance on MCAT, unit examinations, and web-based self-assessments. Of the students identified as high risk, 65% were in our targeted diversity categories. The additional assistance acquired through MedSchoolTutors will enhance internal tutoring and standardized test preparation services provided through the Office of Student Success. These resources will serve to provide additional support in retention efforts for minority students.

Mentors in Healthcare (MiH)

Targeted diversity categories: Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Female

Description: The Mentors in Healthcare (MiH) program was created to provide students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds (African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, or Native American) the opportunity to meet and network with senior students, faculty, and professionals with similar backgrounds. In 2020, the program is piloting a new networking/mentoring model for students who are underrepresented in medicine (URM). The program is designed to empower students with the skills to excel academically, emotionally, socially, and professionally. Students will build networking skills as well as establish mentoring relationships that will provide insight into institutional expectations, networking, and practices that are relevant to productivity and advancement as a student at Upstate and beyond. Through relationships with the Upstate Graduate Medical Education Office, Upstate Medical Alumni Office, Associated Medical Schools of New York, and the National Medical Association, the program aims to increase the capacity of URM residents and early-career physicians to build networking skills and serve as mentors.

RoundTable Series: Dialogues on Community, Culture and Healthcare

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: RoundTable series (RTS) are a facilitated conversations exploring social justice issues and their relationships with healthcare disparities. These conversations are held with service learning leaders as an additional way for students to discuss their engaged service learning. Students have opportunities to share their experiences, learn from others, and discuss student life at Upstate. Students will work toward gaining the skills needed to communicate about these challenging topics in hopes of developing cultural humility. RoundTable is a component of the service learning leader class. 

Responsible Individuals: Simone Seward, MPH, Director, Director of Health Equity Research and Programs;  Steven Contreras, Director of Student Retention

Organizational Locus: Center for Civic Engagement; Student Affairs

Standardized Patient Program

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: Staff in the Clinical Skills Center have worked to diversify the pool of standardized patients who portray clinical cases used for instruction and assessment in the preclinical and clinical years. In 2018-19, 15% of 1,930 SP session encounters were with SPs who were black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). In 2019-20, this number rose to 21% of 1,978 encounters. In the past, students have commented about the low number of diverse SPs; recruitment efforts have been successful in addressing this. It is one of many ways in which we have tried to provide an inclusive environment which contributes to the sense of diversity and belonging, which in turn contributes to retention.

Student National Medical Association (SNMA)

Description: The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) is a student organization that focuses on the needs of medical students. SNMA was established in 1964 when it was recognized that there was a need to promote medical education among minority students. The organization works to encourage an increase in enrollment and retention of minority students in medical schools and to advocate for improved, culturally sensitive health care services and education for underserved individuals. The SNMA chapter at Upstate has five members, a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. The assistant dean for diversity is the advisory for this organization.

Diversity categories target for program: All students

Responsible individual: George Stanley, MD and Nakeia Chambers, Director of Multicultural, Disability, and Veteran's Affairs

Funding Source: Campus activities budget

Organizational Locus: Campus activities

Upstate Online Bias Reporting System

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: Students are encouraged to take an active role in fostering an appreciation for diversity, equity and inclusion and sending the message loud and clear that bias-related acts will not be tolerated. Students who feel they have been the target of discrimination, harassment, or bias (or who have witnessed discrimination, harassment, or a bias-related incident) may report the incident or concern online through a new Upstate Online Bias Reporting System. Reports will be directed to the appropriate office, individual, or team to review, investigate and manage.

Visual Thinking Strategies

Targeted diversity categories: All students

Description: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a student-centered, developmental, inquiry-based method of teaching. VTS helps students and teachers develop critical thinking skills through art-based discussions. Teachers learn facilitation techniques which improve student observation and evidential reasoning skills. Visual thinking strategies are linked to bias mitigation. As part of the Patients to Population course, first-year students will participate in the VTS program at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse. Due to Covid-19, this will be offered to students remotely utilizing Zoom break-out rooms.

Women in Medicine & Science (WIMS)

Description: Women in Medicine & Science (WIMS) is an association of the entire female faculty of the College of Medicine, College of Health Professions and College of Nursing at SUNY Upstate Medical University. The overriding goal of WIMS is to enhance the status of women on the College of Medicine, College of Health Professions and College of Nursing faculty. Specifically, WIMS aims to enhance the retention and development of existing female faculty and facilitating the recruitment of new female faculty. From time to time WIMS takes on issues that are important for the success of female faculty at the schools. The group provides networking between women in different departments and support for women at Upstate. WIMS meets monthly and have a listserve that discusses issues of importance to women faculty at Upstate. WIMS sponsors a yearly, “Women in Medicine & Science Teaching Day” and supports social events for faculty from the Upstate campus. Learn more...

Diversity categories target for program: Females

Responsible individuals: Co-Chairs Susan Graham, MS and Renee Mestad, MD

Funding Source: Not applicable

Organizational Locus: Upstate Medical University.