Basic Sciences appoints Gama as new associate dean for equity and inclusive mentoring

Vivian Gama

Back to Vestigo, Issue 5

By Aaron Conley

Vivian Gama, associate professor of cell and developmental biology, was named the new associate dean for equity and inclusive mentoring as of Sept. 1, 2023.

“Vivian brings unique and key perspectives as a faculty member, award-winning mentor, and international scholar,” said John Kuriyan, dean of basic sciences. “Her leadership will broaden our efforts in a holistic and integrated way and will accelerate our continuing efforts to build equity and inclusion in School of Medicine Basic Sciences.”

Basic Sciences has a 20-year history of leadership in equity and inclusion. Linda Sealy, associate professor emerita of molecular physiology and biophysics, co-directed what is now known as the Vanderbilt Initiative to Maximize Student Development and served as associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion before her retirement. Alongside Sealy, Larry Marnett, dean emeritus of Basic Sciences, also focused on expanding faculty diversity. During his tenure, 60 percent of faculty recruits were women or from backgrounds underrepresented in science.

In 2023, Felysha Jenkins, who was hired in 2021 as the Basic Sciences diversity, equity, and inclusion program manager, became assistant dean of DEI. Jenkins has expanded strategy, programming, and training around DEI topics. Also in 2023, Alyssa Hasty, associate dean for faculty of Basic Sciences, partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center to launch a $17 million, multiyear program with support from the National Institutes of Health to accelerate DEI in the biomedical research faculty community.

Gama and her vision

Gama completed her Ph.D. in pharmacology in 2009 from Case Western Reserve University. Before joining Vanderbilt in 2015, she completed her postdoctoral training at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the laboratory of Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology Mohanish Deshmukh.

Since joining Vanderbilt, Gama’s research has focused on the molecular principles governing organelle remodeling as a driver of cellular transitions during neurogenesis—the process by which neurons develop in the brain.

Gama’s experiences, including immigrating to the U.S. from Colombia and being mentored by Deshmukh, played a significant role in her career trajectory. Her background motivates her interactions with trainees and staff, especially when building her laboratory.

She considers each laboratory member’s background and specific needs for success.

“My main goal is to contribute to empowering and maximizing the talent that we have been fortunate to recruit to Vanderbilt, but also of new trainees and colleagues we are hoping to bring into our laboratories and departments in Basic Sciences,” Gama said.

Gama believes that it is imperative to further integrate inclusive policies at every step of the recruitment and training process for students, postdocs, faculty, and staff. “I am inspired by the incredible advances colleagues like Linda Sealy made toward achieving this goal, and I am honored to continue those efforts in this new role,” she said. Gama sees the whole Basic Sciences community as key to this effort.

“Vivian’s expertise and leadership will undoubtedly enrich our initiatives aimed at cultivating a holistic and integrated approach to equity and inclusion,” said C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “As we honor our past accomplishments and look towards a future of progress, Vivian’s insights and dedication will play a pivotal role in shaping policies that empower all individuals in our academic community.”