Union grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute to promote inclusive excellence in STEM

Publication Date

Union has been awarded a grant from the renowned Howard Hughes Medical Institute to strengthen the study and teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for all of its students.

The HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative challenges U.S. colleges and universities “to substantially and sustainably build their capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.”

A nonprofit focused on research and philanthropy to advance science and education, HHMI will contribute $505,000 over six years to support the College’s efforts.

IE3 is distinct from previous HHMI science education initiatives because it begins with a learning phase. During this period, learning communities envision how to move cooperatively into an implementation phase.

Students in a biochemistry class discussing their research

“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 said in an announcement. “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.”

During Union’s learning phase last winter, Jennifer Fredricks, dean of Academic Departments and Programs, and David Cotter, professor of sociology, interviewed dozens of students with different trajectories in STEM to collect feedback on how the College supports its students. The information was shared with STEM departments, which discussed ways the grant could support departmental goals.

For its next phase, Union is part of a cluster with 15 other institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University, which will focus on specific areas. Among them is meaningful evaluation of effective and inclusive teaching, which will inform faculty practices, including promotion and tenure decisions.

“The transformational aspect of this grant is the mindset shift from ‘fixing the student’ to examining current structures, policies and curricular barriers that are getting in the way of student success, especially for historically underrepresented students in STEM,” said Nicole Theodosiou, associate professor of biological sciences and project director of the grant.

She said the grant will support learning about new advances in cognitive neuroscience and evidence-based best practices for teaching and learning.

“I am excited to have the unique opportunity to support transformational change so that every student at Union is empowered to succeed,” said Theodosiou.

A key benefit of the grant is the opportunity to share resources and experiences with partner schools in the learning cluster.

"On behalf of Union College, I'd like to express my admiration of the HHMI for investing time and resources into this important initiative in higher education,” said Michele Angrist, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“We are honored to be included in our Learning Cluster and look forward to getting underway with the work at hand.”