Blanton Tolbert, a biochemist and administrative leader of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Case Western Reserve University, will serve as an HHMI vice president and head of the Institute’s new Center for Science Leadership and Culture.

Blanton S. Tolbert, PhD
Blanton Tolbert has been named HHMI’s Vice President of Science Leadership and Culture. Credit: Blanton Tolbert

Blanton Tolbert, PhD, a biochemist and administrative leader of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Case Western Reserve University, is joining the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as its first Vice President of Science Leadership and Culture. In this role, Tolbert will develop and lead HHMI’s forthcoming Center for the Advancement of Science Leadership and Culture. His appointment will begin full time later this fall.

Tolbert is the Rudolph and Susan Rense Professor of Chemistry at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), where his research focuses on the biochemical mechanisms by which RNA viruses replicate within the cellular environment. His group leverages their fundamental understanding of the molecular biology of these viruses to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention. He will maintain his lab at CWRU.

Tolbert currently serves as Vice Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence in the School of Medicine and the Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. At CWRU, he has developed programs to recruit individuals from backgrounds currently underrepresented in science into tenure-track faculty positions and to improve the experiences of faculty, staff, and students.

“This is an exciting moment in HHMI’s journey as a research institute and philanthropy, and I’m thrilled that Blanton is joining us,” says Erin O’Shea, president of HHMI. “Blanton is a leading scientist who believes that science belongs to all of us. With his research and leadership experience, he’s well positioned to help us build a future of science that’s more open and inclusive.”

Tolbert calls the new position his dream opportunity. “In this role, I get to combine my passions for scientific excellence, training, and cultural innovations to expand the biomedical workforce with talented individuals from diverse and marginalized backgrounds,” he says. “I can’t think of an organization better positioned to create lasting change than HHMI, with its resources and commitment to long-term investment. I’m excited to build on the good work the Institute is already doing and to collaborate with academic leaders across the country so that we can find ways forward together.”

HHMI is committed to embedding equity and inclusion into our vision of scientific excellence, which will enhance diversity across key academic career stages. In 2021, the Institute committed $2 billion to this vision. By 2023, we expect to launch the Center for the Advancement of Science Leadership and Culture, which will house: 

  • Current and new HHMI programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, in which participating academic faculty, administrators, and students together work to transform the experience of science education. 
  • An initiative that better equips HHMI scientists to provide culturally aware mentorship. 
  • A curriculum that helps HHMI scientists grow their skills in lab management, values-based leadership, scientific rigor, and other valued subjects to maintain inclusive environments.

Koya Partners / Diversified Search Group, an executive search and strategic advising firm, managed the search for HHMI.


HHMI is the largest private biomedical research institution in the nation. Our scientists make discoveries that advance human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. We also invest in transforming science education into a creative, inclusive endeavor that reflects the excitement of research. HHMI’s headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.

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