Science faculty receive $1 million to increase inclusivity and success of diverse students

Ongoing efforts to increase inclusion, access and excellence in science education at Oregon State University received a significant impetus with a recent five-year $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to improve instruction in undergraduate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classrooms.

The ambitious project is called Inclusive Excellence @ Oregon State. OSU was one of 33 colleges and universities that HHMI selected this year for its Inclusive Excellence Initiative. Oregon State is the only Oregon University selected for a HHMI grant this year. The Initiative aims to produce sweeping cultural changes in post-secondary institutions through a variety of pedagogical approaches to increase diversity and inclusion of underrepresented minority (URM) students in science programs.

At Oregon State, these students will include underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation students, and economically disadvantaged students majoring in science and math.

The project is a collaboration between the College of Science, OSU’s Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, and Division of Undergraduate Education. Martin Storksdieck, director of the Center, is the principal investigator (PI) on the project. Co-PIs on the project include mathematics associate professor Mary Beisiegel, senior instructor in integrative biology Lori Kayes, Nana Osei-Kofi, associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, and associate director at the Center Julie Risien.

Other science faculty involved with the project include integrative biology senior instructor Devon Quick, who is part of the core team and will assist with program implementation. In addition to educators from sociology, engineering and education, other members of the proposal steering committee are integrative biology professor and interim department head Robert Mason, Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics P. Andrew Karplus and mathematics professor Tom Dick.

“OSU has a long history of successful HHMI grants. We are excited to have another opportunity to engage with this prestigious and highly selective program. Being selected for the Inclusive Excellence initiative is indicative of the fact that OSU is primed and ready to change the way we think and act in higher education,” said Kayes.

A path toward inclusive excellence in STEM

The grant will help OSU develop a cohort-based professional learning community for designing STEM curricula that will increase the performance of URM students in select critical science and mathematics courses.

In 2015, about 41 percent of Corvallis and Ecampus students at OSU were Pell-eligible and 27 percent were first-generation students. Fall term 2017 enrollment data show that 25 percent of science majors  are first in their family to attend college, 23 percent are underrepresented minorities and 35 percent are both minorities and first-generation students.

However, longer term data at OSU reveal that the gap in graduation rate for URMs and Pell-eligible students ranges from six to 18 percent across various science disciplines and that science is not retaining URMs at the same rate as they are students from majority groups.

Taken collectively, these trends demonstrate that the time is ripe to systematically work towards developing a more inclusive science education that is responsive to the needs of students from diverse backgrounds.

The project seeks to replace traditional lecturing in critical natural sciences courses in favor of a combination of active learning strategies and culturally responsive teaching practices that improve and equalize student success. To this end, Inclusive Excellence @Oregon State will form a five-term Summer Academy with mathematics and science faculty from OSU and nearby community colleges. The faculty will participate in a 40-hour training dedicated to developing teaching practices for inclusive STEM pedagogies and individual course redesigns that will be then implemented in their classrooms.

The project will target instructors of high enrollment, multiple section courses and their community college equivalents in the natural sciences and mathematics and train them to create classrooms where all students, but particularly underrepresented and first generation students, feel welcome and can succeed.

“We hope to see a shift to more active learning approaches coupled with culturally aware faculty. In biology courses culturally responsive teaching practices will potentially include the use of diverse representations of scientists, having a diverse teaching team, using a variety of assessments as opposed to just exam-based evaluations, and incorporating social justice ideas related to biology in the classroom discussions,” explained Kayes.

She continued, “We have already done a lot of transformative work in many of our biology classrooms; this work moves us towards more specifically addressing these hard to get at inclusivity practices in our courses and promoting active learning and culturally responsive pedagogies across not only our campus, but also our neighboring community colleges.”

By the end of the five-year grant period, Inclusive Excellence@Oregon State will have created a community of 100 faculty committed to the success of URM students in STEM courses. Each faculty member teaches approximately three courses per year resulting in 300 inclusive classrooms that affects thousands of undergraduate students.

Inclusive Excellence @ Oregon State builds on the momentum of numerous efforts at OSU to develop a culture of inclusion and excellence in teaching, including OSU’s Difference, Power, Discrimination Program, the ADVANCE Seminar and Enhancing STEM Education at OSU (ESTEME@OSU), the latter two being National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiatives.

Implementation of the program and the establishment of learning communities within and across departments and institutions will build on the foundation of ESTEME@OSU. That program was funded by NSF’s Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence-Based Reforms (NSF WIDER) initiative to broadly implement evidence-based instructional practices in large enrollment undergraduate STEM courses.

“The HHMI grant recognizes the amazing work that is already being done on our campus to transform our STEM classrooms. It gives us the resources to try to spread that work and take it one step further by thinking more specifically about inclusivity and cultural responsiveness within our classrooms,” said Kayes.

Related articles: Inclusive Excellence @ Oregon State awarded $1 million from HHMI

33 Schools to Support Diversity and Inclusion on Campus Through 2018 HHMI Inclusive Excellence Initiative

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