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HHMI has selected 24 schools in the first round of the Inclusive Excellence initiative, a program that aims to help increase the capacity of colleges and universities to effectively engage all students so that they can be successful in science, especially undergraduates who enter four-year institutions via nontraditional pathways.
HHMI has selected 24 schools in the first round of the Inclusive Excellence initiative, a program that aims to help increase the capacity of colleges and universities to effectively engage all students so that they can be successful in science, especially undergraduates who enter four-year institutions via nontraditional pathways.


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States, has announced the first 24 schools selected in its Inclusive Excellence initiative.

The initiative’s broad objective is to help colleges and universities to encourage participation and cultivate the talent of students in the natural sciences. HHMI challenged schools to identify the reasons students are excluded from science and find new ways to include students in opportunities to achieve science excellence.  In particular, the HHMI initiative focuses on those undergraduates who come to college from diverse backgrounds and pathways. These “new majority” students include underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, and working adults with families.

“We’re thinking differently about how HHMI can help move science education forward,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

In a significant move for HHMI, the focus of the new initiative has shifted the locus of responsibility onto the schools — improving the structure of the curriculum and the way it’s delivered, for example, and adjusting school policies and procedures, training faculty, and improving the climate and culture.

“Too many times we approach diversity with a deficit mindset in which interventions are aimed at ‘fixing the students,’” said David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI. Instead, the new initiative focuses on the important work of making the culture of the institution more inclusive, he said. “We want to change the way schools do business.” [Scroll down for David Asai’s new essay, A New Strategy to Build Capacity for Creativity]

HHMI is awarding $1 million each to the 24 schools, which have all proposed plans for engaging more students in science at their campuses. The awards are part of the first round of the initiative. The second round of the competition is currently underway and results will be announced next spring.   

A New Strategy

In the United States, a person’s success in science has too often been more a reflection of where she came from rather than where she wants to go, Asai said. Students who arrive in four-year degree programs directly from high school, and students whose parents went to college are far more likely to persist in STEM studies and earn STEM degrees than students who enter college from less traditional pathways. And students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups leave STEM at significantly greater rates than whites and Asians — even when they come to college with similar preparation.  As U.S. demographics change, disparities in science education continue to grow. 


Finding a way to include all students, from all backgrounds, in STEM is critical for building future generations of American scientists, Asai said. “Science excellence depends on having a community of scientists that is rich in diversity of people and perspectives.”

For decades, educational grants — including some awarded by HHMI — have focused on interventions aimed at the students, such as summer research apprenticeships, tutoring, advising, and summer bridge programs designed to ease the transition from high school to college. While these interventions can help the students involved, they don’t generally address long-term issues that, if changed, could have a more sustained impact, Asai said. “Our goal is to catalyze changes that last well beyond the lifetime of these five-year grants.”

To learn what schools identify as challenges and to discover what ideas the schools have about overcoming barriers to inclusion, HHMI opened the initiative to a wider range of schools than has been eligible to apply in previous science education competitions. “It’s important to acknowledge that good ideas might emerge anywhere,” Asai said. In the 2017 competition, 511 schools of all types submitted pre-proposals. Over multiple stages of peer-review by scientists and science educators, HHMI identified 24 schools for Inclusive Excellence 2017 awards.

The 24 schools represent a diverse assortment of four-year colleges and universities from across the country, but they share a common goal: increasing institutional “capacity” for inclusion. That could mean changing curriculum, institutional policies, or the attitudes and skills of faculty.

The grantee institutions have proposed creative and unconventional ideas for making STEM inclusive for students from all backgrounds. Some ideas include the development of culturally-aware curriculum and faculty training, using technology to help students manage family and cultural obligations, empowering students to serve as role models in the classroom, and creating programs to engage large numbers of undergraduates in course-based research experiences (CREs).

To apply for an award, schools were asked to take a hard look at their own student data and examine institutional and faculty practices that could be excluding students from STEM. Then, each school developed a plan to address problems they had identified involving inclusivity in STEM on their campus.

“The real work begins now,” said Asai, as each school begins to put their plans into action. He hopes to build a community of grantees who will participate in a grand experiment in institutional capacity building. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) external link, opens in a new tabhas created an Inclusive Excellence Commissionexternal link, opens in a new tab whose role will be to evaluate the outcomes of this national experiment, and to disseminate to the broader community what is being learned.  In this way, Asai said, HHMI expects that the Inclusive Excellence grantee institutions will produce useful models for other schools that might share similar contexts and challenges.  



Chaminade University of Honolulu – will develop curricula, pedagogies, and research that integrate Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultural perspectives

Delaware State University – will use online approaches and faculty pedagogies that are student-centered to meet the needs of underrepresented minority students

Humboldt State University – will create place-based learning communities that welcome first-year students

Kenyon College – faculty will transform their pedagogical practices and refine tenure and promotion criteria

Lawrence Technological University – an entire college will use Course-based Research Experiences (CREs) in all disciplines

Northeastern University – faculty will learn inclusive teaching and mentoring skills to include students in the process of scientific discovery

Oberlin College – faculty and staff learning communities will revise the introductory curriculum and co-curricular activities that emphasize inclusive practices

Radford University – faculty will learn inclusive pedagogies through networks and engage all students in the real-world problem solving “Maker” culture

Rochester Institute of Technology – faculty will learn mentoring skills and develop inclusive curricula to nurture the abilities of students from underrepresented backgrounds, including the deaf/hard-of-hearing community

San Francisco State University – faculty will develop an understanding of cultural perspectives and partner with upper division students of color to integrate culturally relevant materials and transform undergraduate biology courses

Stony Brook University – will create faculty learning communities focused on developing inclusive practices in the classroom and laboratory

Towson University – faculty will learn inclusive pedagogies and implement Course-based Research Experiences (CREs) at a large scale, including for transfer students

Trinity Washington University – faculty will learn inclusive teaching and advising skills to support students socially and academically

Tufts University – will create the “Listening Project” to enable faculty to cultivate their ability to listen through intensive working groups informed by responsive pedagogy and inclusive dialogue

University of California Davis – will use an integrated approach that uses data and software as one of several components to engage faculty and professional staff with one another, to learn about, teach, develop and use practices associated with inclusive learning

University of California Los Angeles – faculty will participate in pedagogical training to ensure the success of transfer students

University of Colorado Denver – faculty will learn inclusive teaching practices, commit to culturally competent and identity-conscious communication, revise introductory curricula, and incorporate early research experiences

University of Northern Colorado – faculty will gather data on students’ experience of the intrinsic motivational conditions in their classroom, plan and implement instructional changes, and analyze the impact of the change

University of South Dakota – faculty and staff will learn culturally aware mentoring skills and develop culturally-relevant introductory science courses

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley – instructional assistants and peer mentors will provide bilingual support, tutoring and life coaching to create a nurturing inclusive learning environment

University of Utah – will set up faculty learning communities, inclusive curricula, and improved degree pathways for pre-transfer and post-transfer students from Salt Lake Community College

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – faculty will improve their abilities to be inclusive and departments modify curricula so that students can fully participate in experiential learning opportunities

Washington University in St. Louis – faculty, advisers, and teaching assistants will participate in psychosocial and metacognitive training programs and other interventions to create an inclusive learning environment

Western Washington University – faculty will learn student-centered inclusive approaches to teaching and work with student cohorts through new courses to enhance the success of all students, especially those underrepresented in the natural sciences