Colleen Buggs longed to pursue a career in biomedical research. But Buggs, a black woman, noted how few minorities had appointments on medical school faculties and wondered if it would be more prudent to steer away from academic medicine.

During Buggs's first year at Harvard Medical School, however, she met a faculty member whose very presence exemplified what Buggs herself was capable of achieving. Maria Alexander-Bridges, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard--and a black woman--had graduated from the same Detroit high school as Buggs.

"Suddenly, I could envision myself doing what she was doing," says Buggs, who is now in her third year at Harvard. "I needed to see someone do it to convince me I could do it, too." Last year, Buggs had a chance to collaborate with Alexander-Bridges and cement their relationship--thanks to a $5,000 fellowship she received from the New York-based Commonwealth Fund.

"The support Maria gives...

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