Oglethorpe hosts second HHMI-sponsored STEM barriers workshop

For the second consecutive year, Oglethorpe University hosted a two-day workshop May 22-23 to increase the sense of belonging and inclusivity for underrepresented students in STEM fields.

The workshop agenda included discussions of the Inclusive Excellence (IE3) efforts on campus; an update on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at OU; economics in STEM; reflections on the previous year in inclusion efforts in STEM on campus; community building activities; data analysis; and special presentations from Oglethorpe Communications faculty member Dr. Melany Chambers and Dr. Justin Ballenger, deputy director of the Atlanta University Center Data Science Initiative.

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.

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.

“It is critical that the Oglethorpe community regularly makes space and time to come together to discuss how to build a learning environment here that values all voices from all stakeholders,” 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.

Dr. Karen Schmeichel and Dr. John Nardo record feedback on a dry erase board in Lupton Hall as participants look on.

Dr. Karen Schmeichel and Dr. John Nardo record feedback at the conclusion of the two-day workshop.

“The OU IE3 Team is committed to using our HHMI IE3 funds to support these efforts — the Second STEM Barriers Workshop is a good example of how proper support (logistically, professionally and financially) leads to engaged and authentic dialogues,” Schmeichel said. “We did not derive ultimate solutions to how remove all barriers for our historically under-represented students in STEM, but we did achieve collective focus around this work for a few days, and we took significant steps towards developing trust between OU’s myriad stakeholders in DEI. None of this would have been possible without the courageous contributions of the 16 students who attended and provided actionable feedback at the workshop.”

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.

During the spring semester, the IE3 grant funded three events on campus. In February, there was a celebration of the HHMI IE3 Award. In March, there was the first #IAMSTEM – Stem Hacks event in which OU students provided peer mentorship to junior students on how to “hack” STEM trajectories at OU. In April, there was a second #IAMSTEM – STEM Hacks event in which STEM alumni from diverse backgrounds provided advice on how to hack STEM outside of Oglethorpe in the workforce.

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