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Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) has appointed Kola Okuyemi, MD, MPH, as executive director of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In this role, Okuyemi will oversee efforts across HCI’s research, clinical care, community engagement, and education programs to actively counter racism and promote a culture of belonging, a key strategic priority for the cancer center.
Okuyemi has had a distinguished career as a National Institutes of Health-funded researcher advancing work to eliminate health disparities and improve health in refugee and underserved populations. Okuyemi joined the University of Utah in 2017 as professor and chair of family and preventive medicine. Okuyemi has served as HCI senior director of diversity and inclusion and HCI Research Executive Committee member since 2017, roles in which he has overseen equitable access to clinical research as part of the leadership of HCI’s NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.
This new role expands his oversight to include equity, diversity, and inclusion across the full spectrum of the HCI mission, spanning bench to bedside research, clinical care, population health sciences, and student training programs. Okuyemi recently co-chaired HCI’s Commission on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The commission was established in 2020 to advise HCI leadership on priority recommendations to enhance a more just, equitable, and inclusive environment at HCI. The commission explored areas including clinical policies, training, hiring and retention practices, safety, and culture.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Okuyemi take on this expanded portfolio at HCI, where he will continue to be a leader in our quest to achieve transformational change toward a diverse, equitable, and inclusive HCI community and society,” said Mary Beckerle, PhD, HCI CEO. “The values of equity, diversity, and inclusion are integral to our pledge to put the patient and community first as we strive to reduce the cancer burden in our state and region and deliver a cancer-free frontier.”
Okuyemi is a national leader in training and mentorship. He currently co-leads a National Cancer Institute training grant dedicated to enhancing pathways for underrepresented junior high, high school, and undergraduate students to pursue careers in biomedical research. The program also supports scientific training for junior high teachers. In his prior role as director of cancer health disparities at the University of Minnesota, Okuyemi was one of five principal investigators awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to establish the National Research Mentoring Network, a nationwide consortium of biomedical professionals and institutions whose goal is to provide trainees across the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences with evidence-based mentorship and professional development programming.
“I am delighted to see HCI taking this critical step as we recognize that issues of systemic racism, and all forms of discrimination against employees, trainees, or patients must not be tolerated. I feel honored to have been asked to serve in this role and look forward to working with everyone in the HCI community as we strive towards an equitable and just society,” said Okuyemi.
Okuyemi earned his medical degree from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria. He completed his family medicine residency and master of public health degree at the University of Kansas Medical Center and his public health research fellowship at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Okuyemi begins his service as HCI executive director of equity, diversity, and inclusion effective immediately. He will report to the HCI CEO in this role. Dr. Okuyemi will also retain his role as senior director and member of HCI’s research leadership.