Framingham State to improve STEM programs with $1 million grant

FRAMINGHAM — Framingham State University will launch a five-year project to help students from underrepresented backgrounds succeed in high-tech fields using a major grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The 64-year-old nonprofit, dedicated to advancing biomedical research and science education, announced Wednesday that it will provide $1 million to FSU to help the school redevelop its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

FSU will use the money to fund a long-term effort aimed at increasing the academic success and persistence of first-generation and underrepresented students in STEM fields, according to an announcement.

FSU President F. Javier Cevallos called the grant an “incredible opportunity for the University to enhance its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

“Science and technology are crucial to the state’s innovation economy,” Cevallos said in a prepared statement, “but there is still a large achievement gap for first-generation and minority students training in these important fields. We are truly grateful to the Howard Hughes Institute for awarding us this grant as we seek to take important steps to close that gap.”

FSU was one of 33 schools selected by the institute this year to receive funding through its Inclusive Excellence initiative. The program, launched by the institute last year, aims to help colleges and universities engage students from diverse backgrounds in science education. Ethnic minorities, first-generation students and working adults with families are among its target audiences.

More than 50 schools have now been accepted into the initiative, including UMass Amherst, Wellesley College, Brandeis University in Waltham and Wheaton College in Norton.

“This initiative is about encouraging colleges and universities to change the way they do business - to become institutions with a significantly greater capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those from nontraditional backgrounds,” HHMI President Erin O’Shea said in the announcement.

Framingham State will use the grant to fund its Transparent Pathways in STEM project, an effort to remove the obstacles students face in STEM education by redesigning academic pathways and curriculum. Some 60 faculty members from FSU and Massachusetts Bay Community College will participate in the effort, which will use an “evidence-based intensive faculty development model” to improve teaching practices at the schools.

“We believe that all students here, regardless of their background, are equally deserving of the highest quality education,” Dr. Catherine Dignam, chairwoman of Framingham State’s Chemistry and Food Science Department, said in the announcement. “This grant will give us the resources to make significant progress toward our goal of closing the achievement gap between students in STEM disciplines.”