Women of Color Committee (WOCC)

WOCC logo
The WOCC committee is charged with addressing the unique challenges faced by women scientists of color, such as difficulty gaining visibility and recognition.

The Committee on Women of Color in Biomedical Careers, also referred to as the “Women of Color Committee” (WOCC), formed in 2009 as part of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers. WOCC is charged with addressing the unique challenges faced by women scientists of color, such as difficulty gaining visibility and recognition. To help fulfill that charge, WOCC regularly identifies and nominates exceptional women researchers for the prestigious NIH Director’s Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series (WALS). For the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 to 2023 WALS seasons, the WOCC hosted 16 lecturers. The WOCC also maintains the NIH Women of Color Research Network (WOCRN) on LinkedIn to promote networking among women scientists of color. WOCRN provides information, mentoring, and career development opportunities for women of color in biomedical careers and for those who support racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the scientific workforce. The WOCRN LinkedIn group has more than 3,100 members.

WOCC Members

Rena D'Souza

Rena N. D’Souza, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)


Rosalina Bray, M.Sc., CEP
Extramural Staff Training Officer
Office of Extramural Research (OER)


Mia Rochelle Lowden, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Diversity Officer
National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)

Toyama Reiko

Reiko Toyama, Ph.D.
Program Director
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)


Precilla L. Belin, Ph.D., M.A., MCHES
Program Director, Office of Cancer Centers
National Cancer Institute (NCI)


The NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers (WgWBC) was convened.

The Women of Color Committee (WOCC) was formed as a subcommittee of the WgWBC.

The NIH Women of Color Research Network (WOCRN) was launched to assist women scientists of color find mentors and role models, navigate the NIH grants process, and learn how to facilitate their entrance into and advancement in biomedical research careers.

The WOCC and the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) sponsored a symposium, “The Health of Women of Color: A Critical Intersection at the Corner of Sex/Gender and Race/Ethnicity” at the 2014 NIH Research Festival.

To facilitate interactions, the WOCC supported the establishment of regional networks of researchers.

  • The first two regional networks, connecting the campuses of Indiana University and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, increased the dialogue among individuals across campuses.
  • The WOCC held a conference at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina in late 2014 to kick-start the Research Triangle Park mentoring network.

In FY15, the WOCC nominated three women of color from the NIH Intramural Research Program for society awards and 14 women for the NIH Director’s Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series (WALS), 5 of which were successful. In FY16, the WOCC nominated 20 women for WALS, of which 4 were successful.

  • In FY15, the WOCC received an NIH Office of the Director Honor Award for establishing WCORN as a national online resource to support the NIH mission and minority women in biomedical sciences.
  • In FY16, the WOCC transferred WOCRN from its former platform to LinkedIn to leverage the existing LinkedIn infrastructure and maximize the potential of the site (www.linkedin.com/groups/8501207).
  • In FY15 and FY16, the WOCC continued to support and establish regional networks of WOCRN users to facilitate local interactions and mentoring opportunities. The first two networks, connecting the campuses of Indiana University and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, continue to thrive. 
  • Six of the 55 WALS lecturers (11%) were women of color.
  • In FY17, the WOCC hosted special presentations from two WOCC-nominated WALS lecturers, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Linda Buck. The WOCC hosted two more WALS special presentations and presentations from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.
  • In FY18, the WOCC hosted special presentations from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) scientific director (NIH’s first Latina scientific director), an investigator from the NIH Distinguished Scholars Program (a cohort model for enhancing diversity and inclusion of principal investigators), and a WALS lecturer. In addition, the WOCC held a special discussion on issues faced by women scientists of Asian origins.

In FY19 and FY20, the WOCC successfully nominated six WALS lecturers, or 10% for each season. The WOCC also held three meetings that featured two NIH Earl Stadtman tenure-track investigators and the NIMHD deputy director to discuss their research and career journeys as women scientists of color.

  • In FY21 and FY22, the WOCC successfully nominated eight women scientists for WALS. Five were selected for named and honorific lectures: Rolla E. Dyer Lecturer (2), Margaret Pittman Lecture (1), Marshall W. Nirenberg Lecture (1), and NIH Director’s Lecture (1).
  • To commemorate Women’s History Month, the WOCC hosted a facilitated discussion on March 30, 2022, with the theme “Navigating the Path to Success for Women Scientists.” More than 280 women scientists across NIH attended the event.
  • The WOCC met with Kevin Williams, Esq., director of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, to discuss collaboration opportunities.
  • In collaboration with the NIH Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Health Scientific Interest Group (AANHPI-HSIG), the WOCC successfully nominated two women AANHPI scientists for the 2023–2024 WALS Season.
  • In May 2023, Neil Ruiz, Ph.D., Pew Research Center’s Head of New Research Initiatives held a special presentation titled “Diverse Cultures and Shared Experiences Shape Asian American Identities.” This event was advertised in the NIH Clinical Center in a WOCC-generated digital display.
  • In August 2023, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) strategists presented to the WOCC the results of listening sessions on specific workforce-related challenges faced by minoritized populations within the NIH community. The EDI strategists and provided recommendations for effectual change.
  • In September 2023, Marie Bernard, M.D., Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) presented to the WOCC COSWD’s focus on scientific workforce diversity at large and highlighted the importance of addressing diversity from multiple perspectives.
  • In February 2024, the WOCC met and discussed the launch of the WOCC Chat and Chew Series, which is led by Precilla Belin, Ph.D., M.A., MCHES. This series kickoff occurred on March 27, 2024, with the theme “Building Bridges: Maximizing the Mentor-Mentee Relationship”. The event featured mentor–mentee pairs: Dr. Laundette Jones and Ms. Grace Padgett of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Dr. Rena D’Souza and Mr. Jeremie Oliver Piña of the NIH Intramural Research Program. Future sessions of the series are scheduled for July 31, 2024, and November 14, 2024.
  • The WOCC hosted a virtual session on April 3, 2024, with WALS lecturer Dr. Phyllis Zee, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Zee is professor of neurobiology, Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor in Neurology, chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine, and the director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine. During this session, Dr. Zee shared insightful information on how she navigated her academic/professional journey. In addition, participants engaged in an inspiring and empowering discussion.  

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