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With grants to 33 colleges and universities, HHMI is catalyzing efforts to improve the inclusion of students from diverse backgrounds in science education.
With grants to 33 colleges and universities, HHMI is catalyzing efforts to improve the inclusion of students from diverse backgrounds in science education.

For 33 schools across the United States, science education may soon become more inclusive.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has selected 33 colleges and universities to join 24 schools selected in 2017 in its Inclusive Excellence initiative, which aims to catalyze schools’ efforts to engage all students in science ­­­─ regardless of background. Those students could include underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, or working adults with families.


Each of the 57 schools will receive $1 million in grant support over five years and work with HHMI and its partner, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), to engage in the process of culture change.

“This initiative is about encouraging colleges and universities to change the way they do business ­­­─ to become institutions with a significantly greater capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those from nontraditional backgrounds,” says Erin O’Shea, the president of HHMI.

Engaging these students and bringing their diverse perspectives into the science community is critical for achieving scientific excellence and finding creative solutions to difficult problems, she says. Yet this potential is far from being realized because certain groups of students are far more likely than others to persist in science. Students’ race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational paths, and parents’ level of education are all tied to undergraduate success rates.

While the scientific community has long worked to increase diversity in the sciences, programs have tended to focus on helping students in ways that enable them to adapt to the majority culture. “Rather than deficit-based thinking, the Inclusive Excellence initiative insists that schools recognize that the different perspectives that students of diverse backgrounds bring to science are assets, and then discover ways to nurture their potential,” says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education.

“For years, the higher education system has focused on treating symptoms instead of addressing root causes,” says Susan Musante, an HHMI program officer. With the Inclusive Excellence initiative, she says, HHMI is asking institutions to identify how they are standing in the way of success for certain groups of students ─ then find ways to change.


During two rounds of selection in 2017 and 2018, HHMI received applications from 594 schools. Of these, 140 schools were invited to submit full proposals for plans to develop more inclusive environments for their students.

The 57 grantees selected by HHMI in the two rounds will act on opportunities they have identified on their campuses through a variety of approaches, including revising curricula, restructuring educational pathways, changing faculty reward structures, providing faculty training in cultural and racial bias awareness, and collaborating with other organizations who have had success in building inclusive institutions. Each school has committed to working closely with HHMI and the AAC&U Inclusive Excellence Commission for five years to evaluate its progress and refine its approach.

“We must work to unmask the underlying assumptions, traditions, and beliefs that have historically undermined our capacity to fully achieve excellence in the sciences,” says Kelly Mack, AAC&U vice president and executive director of Project Kaleidoscope, AAC&U’s STEM higher education reform center.

To help keep institutions focused on achieving real change, HHMI and AAC&U have developed an assessment tool called “Progress towards Inclusive Excellence through Reflection,” or PIER. PIER is a set of nine questions that will guide institutions in considering the impact of their efforts and identifying places where they may need to change their approach.

Specifically, PIER asks grantees to reflect on:

»  their aspirations for inclusion and how institutional values about diversity, equity, and inclusion are influencing their program
»  the context in which they are implementing their program, including how that context is changing
»  insights they have learned and expertise they have recruited
»  how their program has affected their institution’s capacity for inclusion and how the institution will sustain the momentum for change

HHMI also wants its grantees to learn from each other. To facilitate idea sharing, the Institute has assigned each school to a Peer Implementation Cluster (PIC), a community of four to five Inclusive Excellence schools. Each school will receive funding from HHMI to support participation in their PIC. PICs of Inclusive Excellence grantees selected in 2017 have engaged in shared faculty development workshops and are planning anti-bias and anti-racism training.

HHMI considers each grantee’s proposed plan for Inclusive Excellence an experiment. “More than an end goal, inclusive excellence is a process, and the HHMI grantees have committed to engaging in that process. Through this initiative, 57 local experiments will be under way; together, the outcomes of these experiments will lead to a better understanding of how a campus can build capacity for inclusion,” Asai says. Ultimately, the Institute hopes the schools will discover strategies for making meaningful and lasting change that can be adopted by other institutions.



2018 Inclusive Excellence Schools

Arizona State University: personalized, discipline-grounded digital inquiry experiences for first-year students

Bates College: development of cultural competencies by faculty; redesign of curricula to include research experiences for first-semester students

Brandeis University: faculty and student learning communities that focus on cultural competencies and inclusive pedagogy

California State University, Los Angeles: in collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education, faculty professional development for equity‐minded inclusive education and developing students’ scientific identities

California State University San Marcos: faculty development in research-based student learning; advising and peer mentoring focused on students’ science identity; creation of inclusive pedagogies

Davidson College: faculty learning of inclusive teaching practices; redesign of gateway STEM courses; creation of feedback loops to understand student experiences in near-real-time

DePauw University: departmental self-studies and faculty development to address gatekeeping practices and pedagogies; inclusion training for peer mentors; data-driven divisional change

Framingham State University: activities to improve faculty self-efficacy with diversity and inclusion; redesign of courses and curricula; development of faculty leadership to impact institutional culture

James Madison University: create the BioCommons, an intentionally inclusive physical space for student and faculty interactions that instills a sense of belonging

Kalamazoo College: professional development for all faculty and staff to build cultural competencies and understanding of systemic racism; revision of hiring, tenure, and promotion policies to reward cultural competency and inclusive practices

Kennesaw State University: faculty learning communities to increase the use of inclusive pedagogies and integrate research experiences throughout the curriculum

Lawrence University: through faculty development, reform the large introductory STEM courses to utilize inclusive teaching and mentoring practices

Mercy College: establish the Adjunct Academy for adjunct instructors to learn inclusive pedagogy and course design

Mount Mary University: professional development to unlearn racism for all faculty, staff, and administrators

Norfolk State University: create community-focused collaborative course-based research experiences (C3URE) and integrate throughout the four-year curriculum

North Carolina State University: improve advising and peer mentoring for pre- and post-transfer students and develop new inclusive course-based research experiences

Oregon State University: cohort-based professional learning communities for designing culturally responsive STEM curricula

Roosevelt University: faculty development to improve pedagogy, integration of new technologies, tiered mentoring, and culturally informed curriculum design

Syracuse University: intentional training for faculty who teach first- and second-year introductory STEM courses to mitigate racial/gender biases and other forms of miscommunication privileging dominant cultural norms and values; creation of course-based research experiences

The College of New Jersey: professional development for full-time and adjunct faculty to support the redesign of 16 core science and math courses; creation of mentored research experiences; establishment of new structures for faculty recognition and rewards

University of California, Merced: faculty development in inclusive pedagogy; faculty-student learning communities; new inquiry-based labs and course-based research experiences

University of Houston-Downtown: faculty learning to improve teaching culture; curriculum redesign; development of learning spaces

University of Illinois at Chicago: redesign of requirements, programs, and courses; faculty development to encourage culturally responsive pedagogy

University of Massachusetts Amherst: course-based research experiences for all first-year life science majors; comprehensive professional development to change mindsets of faculty and instructional personnel; development of a culture of ongoing assessment

University of Missouri: strengthen relationships and align programming with feeder schools; learning communities of faculty, staff, and students to improve inclusive capacity

University of Puerto Rico at Humacao: creation of the Center for Teaching and Learning to encourage faculty and student development

University of St. Thomas (Minnesota): faculty learning about implicit racial and economic biases; redesign of introductory courses; integration of strength-based mentoring into advising

University of Wisconsin-Madison: professional development for faculty, advisors, and peer mentors to improve their abilities to work with transfer students

Utah State University: alignment of academic programming and faculty development in cultural competencies with a focus on serving Native American students transferring from the two-year Blanding Campus

Vassar College: interdisciplinary collaborative learning clusters of faculty that will redesign the curriculum, engage students and faculty in global Grand Challenges, and nurture a culturally responsive learning and research environment

Virginia Commonwealth University: alignment of academic programming between VCU and two community colleges; establishment of the Science Learning Center; enhancement of institutional climate

Wellesley College: faculty development about stereotype threat, unconscious bias, and culturally competent pedagogy to inform intensive course and curriculum reform and advising redesign

Wheaton College (MA): department-based faculty development and curriculum reform, and an innovative collaborative campus-wide leadership initiative