The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has announced that it is awarding more than $60 million in grants to 104 colleges and universities through its Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative. The six-year grants are intended to help institutions improve their undergraduate science education in ways that benefit students from diverse backgrounds.
In addition to previous funding to IE1 and IE2 schools, the new HHMI grants are now supporting 161 higher education institutions design and evaluate innovations in science education, particularly for groups of students that have historically been underrepresented in science.
“Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a scientific culture that is centered on equity,” said Blanton Tolbert, HHMI’s vice president of science leadership and culture. “In science education, increasing the number of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds must go hand in hand with creating inclusive learning environments in which everyone can thrive.”
The IE3 initiative is focused on three questions, chosen to address the loss of STEM talent that occurs as college students who initially intended to study STEM subjects drop out of STEM disciplines or fail to complete a college degree altogether.
- How can we make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive?
- How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure?
- How can we create genuine partnerships between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities so that transfer students have a more inclusive experience?
The IE3 initiative targets the introductory STEM experience because, according to HHMI officials, that’s when most of the student departures from STEM disciplines occur.
Competition for the grants began originally in 2019 and resulted in 354 colleges and universities submitting pre-proposals for funding. However, because of the multiple, ongoing disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the IE3 was paused and subsequently revised.
“The deep disruptions on many campuses meant that faculty and administrators simply could not prepare full proposals for IE3,” said David Asai, HHMI senior director for science education. “We realized that a competition mindset is the opposite of sharing. Further, if we had continued with the original plan, 92 percent of the 354 schools that expressed their commitment to inclusion would be excluded,” said Asai. “Instead of a competition, we decided to pivot to emphasize collaboration.”
With the input of outside experts, the HHMI team reviewed the 354 pre-proposals and invited 108 schools whose applications reflected a willingness to learn from and collaborate to address the three challenges. Ultimately, of the 108 invited schools, 104 agreed to take part in the effort.
Next, the HHMI team divided the 104 schools into seven Learning Community Clusters, or LCCs, with each LCC comprising about 15 schools. Three LCCs focus on the content of the introductory science experience; three LCCs focus on evaluating effective and inclusive teaching; and the seventh cluster focuses on building partnerships between two- and four-year schools. The 15 universities in the seventh cluster are partnering with 30 community colleges.
For example, Vanderbilt University will receive $1.1 million to work with its partners to improve the content of gateway STEM courses. The 13 partner institutions working alongside Vanderbilt are Allegheny College, Auburn University at Montgomery, California State University-East Bay, College of the Holy Cross, Emmanuel College (Massachusetts), Hartwick College, Mount Holyoke College, Nebraska Wesleyan University, Rollins College, St. John’s University-New York, University of Akron, University of Kansas and University of Virginia.
“We are working to make Vanderbilt a place that provides a sense of belonging and ensures that our students have the opportunity to succeed and to pursue STEM as a career and as a passion,” said Katherine Friedman, associate professor and vice chair of biological sciences and one of the co-directors of Vanderbilt’s IE3 program. “We’re able to come at it from a lot of different angles, and it’s exciting to me that we are doing it through research and through the classroom.”
Over the course of developing the collaborative approach, the HHMI team also changed the way the projects will be managed. Instead of each school operating independently and reporting its progress to HHMI, the 104 IE3 schools report to one another, “collectively creating an annual reflection of what transpired in the previous year.”
“What has emerged from each LCC is a plan in which the LCC serves as the ‘hub’ coordinating the various experiments being conducted by the member institutions,” Asai said. “Over the six years of IE3, the LCC will monitor its learnings and coordinate the shared budget and, if necessary, decide how to redistribute grant funds within the LCC.”
About the Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a nonprofit research organization and philanthropy, based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Founded in 1953 by Howard Hughes, it is one of the largest private funding organizations for biological and medical research in the United States. HHMI’s mission is to “advance the discovery and sharing of scientific knowledge to benefit us all.”