University of Iowa biology professor wins inaugural DEI award

Lori Adams, a professor within the Biology Department, received the first ever DEI award from the university for her work across several programs to help underrepresented students in STEM.


Contributed photo of Lori Adams, professor within the Biology Department.

Samantha Murray, News Reporter

The University of Iowa’s inaugural diversity, equity, and inclusion award was presented to Lori Adams of the Biology Department for her extensive program involvement and dedication to improving diversity within the science field.

An assistant professor in the UI Department of Biology, Adams first attended the University of Illinois, receiving a B.S. in crop science. Her first research project was as an undergraduate, where she was tasked with washing dishes in a lab, which she said offered a starting point to interest her in researching.

She went on to earn a doctorate in genetics from Texas A&M, pursuing postdoctoral degrees at Bruce Thompson Institute and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I was working with several people at UW Madison that were developing activities and a course around helping mentees to get acclimated to the research group,” Adams said. “That kind of piqued my interest in working with undergraduates specifically at large research institutions.”

Now, instead of research, Adams directs programs that support students and help increase access to opportunities for underrepresented and diverse groups of students in undergraduate research labs. She serves as program director for both the Iowa Biosciences Academy and the Latham Science Engagement Initiative.

Additionally, Adams is the co-director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The programs provide students with career counseling and resources for applying to graduate school and work closely with the counseling and psychology program in the college of education, she said.

“Undergrad research is an opportunity you can do for academic credit, but students will oftentimes have another job,” Adams said. “These resources provide financial support, so you get paid to do research in the lab.”

UI senior Madison Anae, who has been involved in the Iowa Biosciences Academy since its creation in 2018, said the whole staff at the academy, especially Adams, were there to support her in her endeavors. The program serves STEM majors with underrepresented identities who hope to pursue a doctorate degree, helping pay for research and enroll in professional development classes in addition to hosting social events each semester.

“I think that one of the most incredible things about working with her is knowing that you can go to her about anything and then she’ll be able to give you the support that you might need in whatever situation,” Anae said.

When Adams won the award, Adams said that she was completely astounded and honored, but humbly, she said the award didn’t encompass everyone who made the programs tick.

“I’m very honored, and it’s awesome, but I also recognize these programs don’t happen just because of me,” she said.

Adams said she has a great staff and many supporters of the project, like Iowa Biosciences Academy Program Director Vincent Rodgers and Program Coordinator for Iowa Biosciences Academy Brinda Shetty.

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Associate Professor of Biology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Maurine Neiman, who is a faculty fellow for diversity, equity, and inclusion, said she and Adams are colleagues as well as friends and both share an interest in education and diversity.

Neiman said she thinks diversity, equity, and inclusion awards are important because it makes it clear that DEI work is meaningful, adding that the award solidifies inclusion efforts as scholarly work that can be considered for the evaluation and promotion of faculty, staff, and students.

“It deserves to be recognized right alongside the more traditional measures of achievement like grants and papers,” Neiman said. “This type of work and teaching as well are equally important, and in some ways, we can make the biggest differences and evolve through diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism kind of work.”