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The second round of $2.5 million grants were awarded to research universities working to build inclusive learning environments for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
The second round of $2.5 million grants were awarded to research universities working to build inclusive learning environments for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) today announced the second round of grants in the Driving Change initiative – a multi-institution program designed to connect research universities that are working to build inclusive learning environments for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Six universities will receive $2.5 million each over five years: Illinois State University; Rice University; Rutgers University – Camden; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and the University of Vermont.  

The Driving Change Program, launched in 2019, aims to effect lasting culture change on research university campuses by offering support for institutions that are working to identify barriers to inclusion and create inclusive learning environments for all. The program is designed to help institutions support undergraduate students, including people who have historically been excluded from science because of their background, so that they may excel in STEM and assume leadership roles in the field.  

“Science belongs to all of us, yet we know there are many barriers to science education that influence student recruitment and retention in STEM,” says Blanton Tolbert, vice president of HHMI’s Center for the Advancement of Science Leadership and Culture (CASLC), which now administers the Driving Change Program. Established in 2022, CASLC plays a key role in HHMI’s efforts to center equity and inclusion in science research and education across key academic career stages. “We also know that long-lasting change requires a commitment from academic institutions – and their leaders – to do the hard work that’s needed to identify and break down these barriers to student success over time,” says Tolbert. “We applaud each of this year’s Driving Change grantees for their demonstrated commitment to such efforts and for their willingness to help others on a similar journey to make STEM education inclusive to all.”  

Like last year’s inaugural Driving Change grant recipients, this year’s awardees are among the 38 institutions that have comprised HHMI’s Driving Change Learning Community since 2019. Each grantee engages in a comprehensive approach to culture change with three interlocking elements: 

  • participation in Driving Change Learning Community workshops, seminars, and meetings; 
  • institution-centered programs that improve an institution’s climate, policy, or practices to increase the inclusivity of the university’s STEM learning environment; and 
  • student-centered programs that enable all students to succeed, universities to commit to and value that success, and faculty to assume responsibility for the success of all students.  

This year’s awardees are recognized for developing culture change efforts that include new department-based equity action plans, living-learning communities, holistic advising programs, and civic engagement programs, among many other undertakings.  

The foundation of the Driving Change Program is the Driving Change Learning Community, in which all 38 member institutions work together to create inclusive environments, support student success, and recognize institutional practices that are barriers to inclusion. To target these goals and expand both their personal and institutional capacity for this work, the Learning Community members meet once each year in person at HHMI’s headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, two to three times per year at HHMI-hosted virtual meetings, and as often as monthly at virtual gatherings led by members of the Learning Community. Upon acceptance into the Learning Community, each of the 38 institutions received $50,000 to support their institution’s participation in the community. 

Learning Community members each conduct a year-long (or longer) self-study to determine how to build a more inclusive environment and address their institution’s specific needs and challenges. Once institutions decide they have a good understanding of their barriers to inclusion and have developed an action plan to address them, they can apply for a five-year Driving Change grant. Grantees are selected based on their demonstrated readiness to embark on a change journey. They continue as active members of the Learning Community, with the expectation that they will share lessons learned with all Driving Change institutions.  

“Each of this year’s grantee institutions has demonstrated their dedication to carrying out critical, intensive work for the betterment of the wider world of STEM and STEM education. Part of this work includes a thorough self-study to ensure that each institution identifies its own unique needs,” says Sarah Simmons, HHMI program lead for Driving Change. “We are honored to be a part of a community with so many change-makers who are driven by the goal of making science and science education accessible to everyone.” 

HHMI is not currently accepting new applications to join the Driving Change Learning Community; however, new details regarding the next call for applications may be released as early as next year. Those interested in learning more should visit hhmi.org.  

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