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$1.1 Million Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant Will Support Drexel’s Efforts to Create a More Inclusive Learning Environment for STEM Students

November 30, 2022

As part of a national initiative by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Drexel University will team with 14 other colleges and universities as part of a learning community that will take a closer look at how to promote inclusive teaching to more effectively engage students from all backgrounds, including those who belong to groups traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The HHMI Inclusive Excellence grant will provide Drexel with $1.155 million in funding over the next six years to support this effort as part of the work of its Center for the Advancement of STEM Teaching & Learning Excellence (CASTLE). These funds will support both direct work at Drexel to advance the use of inclusive teaching practices and will allow Drexel to support the broader work of the learning community in understanding, promoting, and evaluating inclusive teaching.

HHMI created the Inclusive Excellence program five years ago to address what it sees as a challenge and an opportunity when it comes to helping students from first-generation and non-traditional educational backgrounds and groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science fields succeed in college.

“Nationally, a student beginning college at a two-year institution has a five-fold lower probability of finishing the baccalaureate than a student who begins at a four-year school. A first-generation student has a three-fold lower probability of finishing the baccalaureate than a student from a family with at least one college graduate,” according to HHMI’s announcement of the program. “And a student from an underrepresented group has a two-fold lower probability of completing the STEM baccalaureate than a student who identifies as white or Asian American.”

Participant schools are charged with defining what “inclusive excellence” means on their campus, identifying barriers to inclusion and equity and building a measurable plan to improve their institution’s capacity for inclusive teaching.

At Drexel the program will manifest itself through the work of CASTLE — the school’s research center for studying STEM teaching and learning.

“This grant aims to dismantle systemic injustice around STEM education through a focus on inclusive teaching.  This is an opportunity to strengthen our national excellence in STEM through a more equitable culture that promotes the learning of all students,” said Jennifer Stanford, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences who is a co-director of CASTLE and will be serving as program director of the Inclusive Excellence initiative at Drexel.

Over the next six years CASTLE and its collaborators within the learning community: California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, Centre College, Cleveland State University, Coker University, The College of Wooster, Georgia State University, Lane College, Marian University (Indiana), Occidental College, the University of California- Irvine, the University of Connecticut, the University of Mississippi, the University of Richmond and West Virginia University, will focus on six projects under the auspices of the program.

  • One will study students’ sense of belonging on their campuses and how changes to teaching approaches can affect student belonging and learning.
  • Two projects will focus on data collection and the use of institutional data to identify curricular structures that help or hinder student success.
  • A fourth project will evaluate how faculty evaluation and promotion structures can be adjusted to prioritize and incentivize strengthening a culture of inclusion.
  • And a fifth will review research and practices focused on inclusion to establish common terms and definitions and build a consensus around what inclusive teaching means and how it can be appropriately assessed.
  • The sixth will establish professional development across the Inclusive Excellence cohort to cultivate sustainable faculty behaviors and mindsets that support equitable teaching practices and transform learning environments to be anti-racist.

“These six projects represent some of the most significant opportunities to make demonstrable and sustainable progress in preparing faculty to support students of all backgrounds and building an environment that encourages inclusive learning,” said Adam Fontecchio, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering, who is the director of CASTLE and serving as a Core Team member of the Inclusive Excellence initiative at Drexel.

Along with the other Drexel Core Team members, Daniel King, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences; Jason Silverman, PhD, a professor in the School of Education and co-director of CASTLE; Erin McNamara Horvat, PhD, interim dean of the School of Education and senior vice provost for Faculty Advancement & Undergraduate Affairs; and Sujoy Das, PhD, vice provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Accreditation; Stanford, Fontecchio and the team at CASTLE will lead the initiative at Drexel as part of its ongoing mission of affecting institutional change in STEM education by promoting effective and inclusive teaching. CASTLE is home to a number of related programs striving to improve the foundations of higher education, including Drexel’s implementation of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning core ideas and programming.

The HHMI program aligns with Drexel’s foundational mission of preparing graduates of diverse backgrounds to become purpose-driven professionals and agents for positive change. It is also complementary to many of the goals of Drexel’s 2030 strategic plan, the efforts of its Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging; Antiracism Task Force; Teaching and Learning Center; and the University’s shared values of integrity, inclusion, impact, integration and innovation.

“The Inclusive Excellence program is very much in the spirit of Drexel’s ongoing efforts to promote effective and inclusive teaching to promote student learning in STEM fields,” Stanford said. “We see this as an opportunity to support the success of all our students as they move on and contribute to solving some of society’s greatest challenges. The opportunity to work with and learn from our collaborators within the learning community, will hopefully allow for greater, and more rapid progress in promoting inclusive excellence in undergraduate STEM learning environments nationally.”