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

For 33 schools across the United States, science education may soon become more inclusive.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has selected 33 colleges and universities to join 24 schools selected in 2017 in its Inclusive Excellence initiative, which aims to catalyze schools’ efforts to engage all students in science ­­­- regardless of background. Those students could include underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, or working adults with families.

Each of the 57 schools will receive $1 million in grant support over five years and work with HHMI and its partner, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), to engage in the process of culture change.

“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,” says Erin O’Shea, the president of HHMI.

Engaging these students and bringing their diverse perspectives into the science community is critical for achieving scientific excellence and finding creative solutions to difficult problems, she says. Yet this potential is far from being realized because certain groups of students are far more likely than others to persist in science. Students’ race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational paths, and parents’ level of education are all tied to undergraduate success rates.

While the scientific community has long worked to increase diversity in the sciences, programs have tended to focus on helping students in ways that enable them to adapt to the majority culture. “Rather than deficit-based thinking, the Inclusive Excellence initiative insists that schools recognize that the different perspectives that students of diverse backgrounds bring to science are assets, and then discover ways to nurture their potential,” says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education.

“For years, the higher education system has focused on treating symptoms instead of addressing root causes,” says Susan Musante, an HHMI program officer. With the Inclusive Excellence initiative, she says, HHMI is asking institutions to identify how they are standing in the way of success for certain groups of students - then find ways to change.

During two rounds of selection in 2017 and 2018, HHMI received applications from 594 schools. Of these, 140 schools were invited to submit full proposals for plans to develop more inclusive environments for their students.

The 57 grantees selected by HHMI in the two rounds will act on opportunities they have identified on their campuses through a variety of approaches, including revising curricula, restructuring educational pathways, changing faculty reward structures, providing faculty training in cultural and racial bias awareness, and collaborating with other organizations who have had success in building inclusive institutions. Each school has committed to working closely with HHMI and the AAC&U Inclusive Excellence Commission for five years to evaluate its progress and refine its approach.

“We must work to unmask the underlying assumptions, traditions, and beliefs that have historically undermined our capacity to fully achieve excellence in the sciences,” says Kelly Mack, AAC&U vice president and executive director of Project Kaleidoscope, AAC&U’s STEM higher education reform center.

To help keep institutions focused on achieving real change, HHMI and AAC&U have developed an assessment tool called “Progress towards Inclusive Excellence through Reflection,” or PIER. PIER is a set of nine questions that will guide institutions in considering the impact of their efforts and identifying places where they may need to change their approach.

Specifically, PIER asks grantees to reflect on:

Their aspirations for inclusion and how institutional values about diversity, equity, and inclusion are influencing their program

The context in which they are implementing their program, including how that context is changing

Insights they have learned and expertise they have recruited

How their program has affected their institution’s capacity for inclusion and how the institution will sustain the momentum for change

HHMI also wants its grantees to learn from each other. To facilitate idea sharing, the Institute has assigned each school to a Peer Implementation Cluster (PIC), a community of four to five Inclusive Excellence schools. Each school will receive funding from HHMI to support participation in their PIC. PICs of Inclusive Excellence grantees selected in 2017 have engaged in shared faculty development workshops and are planning anti-bias and anti-racism training.

HHMI considers each grantee’s proposed plan for Inclusive Excellence an experiment. “More than an end goal, inclusive excellence is a process, and the HHMI grantees have committed to engaging in that process. Through this initiative, 57 local experiments will be under way; together, the outcomes of these experiments will lead to a better understanding of how a campus can build capacity for inclusion,” Asai says. Ultimately, the Institute hopes the schools will discover strategies for making meaningful and lasting change that can be adopted by other institutions.