A Change is Gonna Come

September 19, 2018 / By: Melissa Loe and Roxanne Prichard, HHMI Inclusive Excellence Project Directors
Melissa Loe and Roxanne Prichard, HHMI Inclusive Excellence Project Directors

St. Thomas is awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive (HHMI) Excellence Grant 

St. Thomas has been granted an extraordinary opportunity to become a leader in STEM education. This spring, St. Thomas was selected to join 56 other schools in the United States (from a pool of 594 applications) to receive a one million dollar, five year grant from the HHMI Inclusive Excellence program. This program, a partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), calls for our community to “work toward a campus environment where inclusivity thrives through constant reflection, analysis, and accountability.”

For the past three years, more than twenty St. Thomas faculty and staff members have worked together to study our campus climate and propose an innovative plan to promote inclusive excellence in science and math education. We have reviewed institutional data that have deeply saddened us. At St. Thomas, although first generation college students and students of color enroll in STEM classes at slightly higher rates than white students whose parents are college-educated, they are much less likely to graduate with science, math, and engineering degrees. White students whose parents attended college are also much more likely to be successful in their applications to professional schools than are other students. What can we do to address these disparities? Quite a lot actually.

This grant allows us to engage in a rigorous process of self-study as we discover not only why these disparities exist, but also what we, as a campus community, can do to support all scholars, rather than to perpetuate existing inequities. This grant is not about “fixing the student” with summer bridge opportunities or other programs to “remediate” students. Instead, this grant calls on us to act with honesty, accountability, and continuous reflection to change the culture of our teaching, learning, and governance. Let’s stop thinking of whether students are college-ready, but rather whether we are a “student-ready” university.

We aim to become an authentically welcoming, inclusive environment that supports all students, and not just students who arrive with the cultural capital needed to navigate college successfully. Ultimately, our aspirations are that we eliminate the observed racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in rates of students graduating with STEM degrees, matriculating to graduate programs, and participating in co-curricular research and leadership opportunities. More importantly, we want students’ narratives to reflect experiencing a more welcoming, engaging, and inclusive environment at St. Thomas. 

We propose three major initiatives.

  • Creation of a STEM-specific series aligned with the Center for Faculty Development’s Inclusive Classroom Institute. Faculty members will participate in workshops, faculty and staff co-led discussions (Lunch-and-Learns), and Faculty Learning Communities on evidence-based practices for culturally responsive teaching, including Universal Design for Learning. We will also be able to provide faculty members with teaching enhancement grants for revising or developing new STEM classes that follow these best practices.
  • Establishment and assessment of the impact of a High Impact Mentor Training Program. STEM faculty members will be trained in culturally-responsive, strengths-basedmentoring and student advocacy.
  • Building a Culture of Inclusive Accountability through the appointment of departmental Inclusion Liaisons. These liaisons will bring ideas and concerns to the committee from the department, and make the department members aware of opportunities for faculty and staff members in inclusive-excellence-related professional development.  

Although this grant primarily supports reform within the CAS Division of Science and Mathematics as an initial pilot program, we welcome the involvement of faculty and staff members from all schools and divisions in these efforts.

Here are two upcoming HHMI-related opportunities for STEM faculty that we hope you’ll participate in:

  1. The first of several “Lunch-and-Learn” discussions will be on Thursday October 18, in OWS 257, from 11:45 to 1:15.  Led by Leah Domine of UST Biology Department and Colleen Stephens of UST Academic Counseling, this conversation and resource-sharing will center on how to constructively have a difficult conversation with a student who’s not doing well in the course early on. How to give that negative feedback in a positive way, to help the student to get the needed support and take the steps to turn things around. And what sort of follow-up is most effective. Both Leah and Colleen have expertise with best practices. Come to learn how others tackle this, and to share your own experience. (And if you have suggestions for future discussion topics, please let us know.)
  1. Consider joining the spring 2019 Faculty Learning Community, “Committing to Racial Consciousness in our STEM Classrooms”, led by Rebecca Glover and Melissa Loe (both of UST Mathematics). This FLC is devoted to study and reflection on the book, Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power: White Faculty’s Commitment to Racial Consciousness in STEM Classroomsby Nicole Joseph, Chayla Haynes, and Floyd Cobb. Although this Faculty Learning Community will run in spring 2019, you can get more information and sign up here.

As the AAC&U articulates in their call for proposals for the 2019 Diversity, Equity, and Student Success conference, “Engaged inclusivity transforms the dialogue on inclusion from general acceptance and tolerance of difference to active institutional transformation, based on the belief that the richness of our culture is because of our diversity and a recognition of our common humanity.”  

Please join our efforts in this five-year process as we work toward mission-driven institutional transformation.

Thank you for your help! 


Melissa Loe and Roxanne Prichard, HHMI Inclusive Excellence Project Directors