Howard Hughes Medical Institute awards $60 million to colleges to improve science education

Howard Hughes Medical Institute awards $60 million to colleges to improve science education

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced that it is awarding more than $60 million in grants to 104 colleges and universities as part of its Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative. The six-year grants are intended to help institutions enhance their undergraduate science education in a way that benefits students from diverse backgrounds.

In addition to previous funding for IE1 and IE2 schools, the new HHMI grants now support 161 higher education institutions to design and evaluate innovations in science education, particularly for groups of students who have historically been under-resourced. represented in science.

“Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a science culture focused on equity,” said Blanton Tolbert, vice president of science leadership and culture at HHMI. “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 focuses on three questions, chosen to address the loss of STEM talent that occurs when students who originally intended to study STEM subjects drop out of STEM disciplines or fail to graduate from college. .

  1. How can we make the content of the introductory science experiment more inclusive?
  2. How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching and then use evaluation in the rewards system, including promotion and tenure of faculty?
  3. How do we create real 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, this is when most student departures from STEM disciplines occur.

The competition for grants began in 2019 and resulted in 354 colleges and universities submitting pre-proposals for funding. However, due to the ongoing multiple disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, IE3 was put on hold and then revised.

“The deep disruptions on many campuses meant that faculty and administrators simply couldn’t prepare comprehensive proposals for IE3,” said David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education. “We realized that a competitive mindset is the opposite of sharing. Additionally, if we had continued with the original plan, 92% of the 354 schools that expressed their commitment to inclusion would be excluded,” Asai said. “Instead of a competition, we decided to pivot to emphasize collaboration.”

With input from external experts, the HHMI team reviewed the 354 pre-proposals and invited 108 schools whose applications reflected a willingness to learn and collaborate to address the three challenges. In the end, of the 108 schools invited, 104 agreed to participate in the effort.

Next, the HHMI team divided the 104 schools into seven groups of learning communities, or LCCs, with each LCC comprising approximately 15 schools. Three LCCs focus on the content of the introductory science experiment; three LCCs focus on assessing effective and inclusive teaching; and the seventh group focuses on building partnerships between two- and four-year schools. The 15 universities in the seventh group partner with 30 community colleges.

For example, Vanderbilt University will receive $1.1 million to work with partners to improve the content of STEM pathways 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 work to make Vanderbilt a place that provides a sense of belonging and ensures that our students have the opportunity to succeed and pursue STEM as a career and a passion,” said Katherine Friedman, Associate Professor and Vice President of Science biological. and one of Vanderbilt’s IE3 program co-directors. “We can approach it from many different angles, and it’s exciting to me that we’re doing it through research and the classroom. »

During the development of the collaborative approach, the HHMI team also changed the way projects will be managed. Instead of each school operating independently and reporting its progress to HHMI, the 104 IE3 schools report to each other, “collectively creating an annual reflection of what happened the previous year.”

“What has emerged from each LCC is a blueprint in which the LCC serves as a ‘hub’ coordinating the various experiments conducted by 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 and philanthropic organization based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Founded in 1953 by Howard Hughes, it is one of the largest private organizations funding biological and medical research in the United States. HHMI’s mission is “to advance the discovery and sharing of scientific knowledge for the benefit of all”.

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