The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded a grant of $1 million to the University of California, Davis, to use software, data and personal networking among faculty and staff professionals to create a more inclusive educational environment engaged in ongoing improvement.
“Our goal is an educational environment where every student has a fair shot at success,” said Marc Facciotti, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and at the UC Davis Genome Center and principal investigator on the grant. Co-principal investigators with Facciotti are Marco Molinaro, assistant vice provost and director of the Center for Educational Effectiveness; Michele Igo, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics; Annaliese Franz, associate professor of chemistry; and Timothy Lewis, professor of mathematics.
The UC Davis grant is one of 24 announced today (June 7) by HHMI as part of its Inclusive Excellence initiative. The initiative’s objective is to help colleges and universities encourage participation of all students in the natural sciences. HHMI challenged schools to identify the reasons students are excluded from science and find new ways to include students in opportunities to achieve science excellence. In particular, the HHMI initiative focuses on those undergraduates who come to college from diverse backgrounds and pathways. These “new majority” students include underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students and working adults with families.
Challenges in STEM classes
UC Davis has been very proactive in diversifying its pool of admitted students to better reflect California’s population, Facciotti said. However, first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority students can face challenges in succeeding in a university environment, especially in the large first-year classes in STEM subjects such as chemistry, biology and math.
“Traditionally, this is where you lose students from nontraditional backgrounds,” Facciotti said.
The new UC Davis initiative aims to tackle this by giving professors more information about the challenges their students face, the resources they use, and ideas from colleagues and the literature on how to support their students. They will develop software tools that help professors track how students are performing, and how changes that they make to classes impact students.
At the same time, the initiative will use traditional meetings, workshops and online resources to build a network of instructors and other professionals who will advance equal access to education at UC Davis.
“UC Davis faculty and instructors care deeply about the success of their students. This project aims to support and amplify the great work faculty are already doing, or would like to do, to ensure equal access to educational success for those admitted to UC Davis,” said Molinaro.
Previous efforts to assist retention of minority and first-generation students at UC Davis have focused on resources directed to students, such as mentoring programs and building supportive communities. By focusing on tools and networks for faculty, Facciotti and colleagues hope to support faculty working to close achievement gaps and promote a learning environment where every student can succeed, regardless of their background.
Moving science education forward
“We’re thinking differently about how HHMI can help move science education forward,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”
The Association of American Colleges and Universities has created an Inclusive Excellence Commission whose role will be to evaluate the outcomes of the grants and disseminate what is being learned to the broader community.