Oglethorpe receives HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3 grant to foster inclusion in STEM fields

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) named Oglethorpe University as one of the recipients of its third round of inclusive excellence grants Nov. 30, 2022.

“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, in their 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.”

Part of the Inclusive Excellence 3 program from HHMI, the grant totals $8 million over six years and will go to a Learning Community Cluster (LCC) of 14 institutions, including Oglethorpe. Each of the 14 schools will receive $377,800 directly, and the remaining funds will be used for the collective efforts of the LCC.

The LCC will work to achieve HHMI’s stated purpose of fostering a learning community of college and university faculty and administrators who are engaged in the process of increasing their institution’s capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those who are underrepresented in the sciences.

“We are grateful for the mission of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence program and are eager to continue our efforts to increase students in STEM fields,” said Oglethorpe President Nick Ladany. “This IE3 grant will make a significant impact and represents hundreds of hours of work by our faculty and staff to expand our efforts in STEM inclusion.”

The HHMI announcement noted U.S. colleges and universities were invited to submit pre-proposals in which they each chose of three challenges in the Inclusive Excellence program: how to build an inclusive introductory STEM experience, how to evaluate and reward effective and inclusive teaching and how to create an inclusive experience for students transferring from 2- and 4-year institutions. More than 350 pre-proposals were submitted, and from that group OU and 103 others joined the IE3 learning community.

Two students hold up t-shirts that read "First-Gen in STEM"

Over 40% of Oglethorpe’s students are first-generation.

The work of the LCC will focus on improving pedagogical training for STEM faculty, removing barriers in the curricula for STEM students and developing robust peer-peer mentoring programs. Over the next six years Oglethorpe will implement inclusion strategies on campus while participating with the other members of the LCC.

The IE3 initiative targets the introductory STEM experience because that is when most of the departure from STEM occurs. For non-transfer students, this departure from STEM typically occurs during or immediately after the first year in college.

“This has been more than seven years in the making and is the product of contributions from numerous OU faculty and staff,” said Dr. Karen Schmeichel, Fuller E. Callaway Professorial Chair and professor of biology at OU. Schmeichel and Dr. Laura Renee Chandler, Oglethorpe’s vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, are the program directors of the current 10-person HHMI team that worked with the rest of the LCC to prepare and submit the final proposal for the grant.

“It’s a win-win for the institution,” Schmeichel said. “This money is welcomed as an initial investment in Oglethorpe’s faculty and staff as they become recognized leaders in STEM education reform and commit themselves as advocates for students who have been historically underrepresented in STEM.”

About the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

HHMI is the largest private biomedical research institution in the nation. Its scientists make discoveries that advance human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. It also invests in transforming science education into a creative, inclusive endeavor that reflects the excitement of research. HHMI’s headquarters are in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.

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