104 schools are receiving six-year grants as part of HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative. IE3 challenges US colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably build capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is announcing today that 104 colleges and universities are receiving grants through HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative to continue their critical work to build capacity for inclusion of all students in science. These grants – totaling more than $60 million over six years – along with previous funding to IE1 and IE2 schools, are now supporting 161 schools nationwide as they design experiments aimed at improving the introductory undergraduate science experience.

“Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a scientific culture that is centered on equity,” said Blanton Tolbert, HHMI’s vice president of science leadership and culture. “In science education, increasing the number of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds must go hand in hand with creating inclusive learning environments in which everyone can thrive.”

In preparing their IE3 pre-proposals, each school picked one of three broad challenges to address: 

  1. How can we make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive? 
  2. How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure? 
  3. How can we create genuine partnerships between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities so that transfer students have a more inclusive experience?

The challenges were carefully selected to help the schools focus on designing strategies to prevent the massive loss of talent from STEM that occurs during the college years. Of the nearly one million students who enter college annually intending to study STEM, more than half will not complete a STEM bachelor’s degree. Those who leave STEM are disproportionately students who are first in their family to attend college, students who begin at community colleges, and students from historically excluded ethnic and racial groups.

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.

A Pandemic and Time for Change

The global COVID pandemic caused normal life to grind to a halt in 2020, forcing people and institutions to put their plans on indefinite hold. At that time, HHMI was on the cusp of launching a “standard” competition, inviting schools across the country to compete for funding in round three of the Inclusive Excellence initiative. Two previous competitions had resulted in grants awarded to 57 schools. Prior to the pandemic, HHMI had planned on adding about 25-30 schools in the third round of Inclusive Excellence.

“Research shows that a group with diverse backgrounds and perspectives is better able to solve difficult problems than even the most accomplished individuals.”

Susan Musante, HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3 Program Officer

Participation and interest in IE3 was strong when the call for applications went out in late spring 2019, with 354 schools submitting pre-proposals in early 2020. However, by summer 2020, it became clear that the disruption caused by the pandemic would be widespread and prolonged. Weeks turned to months of lockdown. Schools sent students home, and many began the unintended and unanticipated experiment known as remote learning. At HHMI, plans for IE3 were upended – as the 354 schools involved in the initiative had much more pressing issues to contend with – keeping faculty, staff, and students healthy while trying to carry on their educational missions.

Given these extraordinary circumstances, HHMI decided to pause IE3. “The deep disruptions on many campuses meant that faculty and administrators simply could not prepare full proposals for IE3,” said David Asai, HHMI senior director for science education. He and his team didn’t know it at the time, but their difficult decision would have a silver lining: The pause gave the team time to challenge their assumptions about what the schools needed to succeed and what HHMI should ask of them in return. It even gave them time to reimagine how the grants would be administered and progress reported.

The team recognized that the pause presented an important opportunity – to use the time to connect faculty and administrators with one another by creating opportunities for them to discuss challenges and share ideas. “We realized that a competition mindset is the opposite of sharing. Further, if we had continued with the original plan, 92 percent of the 354 schools that expressed their commitment to inclusion would be excluded,” said Asai. “Instead of a competition, we decided to pivot to emphasize collaboration.”

Since the immediate time constraint of awarding the grants had been removed, Asai, program officer Susan Musante, and the team at HHMI could ask: What if we did things differently? What if collaboration, reflection, group learning, and sharing became the focal points of a newly reimagined IE3. After all, “research shows that a group with diverse backgrounds and perspectives is better able to solve difficult problems than even the most accomplished individuals,” said Musante.

With the help of outside experts, the HHMI team reviewed the 354 pre-proposals and identified 108 schools whose applications reflected interest in and readiness to learn from others and work together to address the difficult questions posed by the challenge they selected.  Ultimately, HHMI invited 108 schools to form a collaborative learning community, and 104 agreed.

Collaboration and Accountability

With the new emphasis on collaboration as the organizing principle of IE3, the HHMI team implemented a new strategy to reinforce and catalyze learning and sharing. They divided the 104 schools into seven Learning Community Clusters, or LCCs, with each LCC comprising approximately 15 schools.

The LCCs are organized around the IE3 challenge chosen by the schools: three LCCs focus on the content of the introductory science experience; three LCCs focus on evaluating effective and inclusive teaching; and the seventh cluster (LCC7), called the IMPACT STEM Transfer Network, is focused on building partnerships between two- and four-year schools. The 15 universities in LCC7 are partnering with 30 community colleges.

A key aspect of the collaborative approach is to provide the participating institutions sufficient time to coalesce into a Learning Community that can collectively design experiments and engage in regular sharing of what they are learning from the experiments.

Over nearly two years, HHMI staff have worked with the LCCs as they developed their collaborative proposals and budgets. And here, the HHMI team saw another opportunity to innovate with new ideas about how the IE3 grants are managed. Instead of each school operating independently and reporting its progress to HHMI, the 104 IE3 schools are reporting to one another and collectively creating an annual reflection of what transpired in the previous year.

“What has emerged from each LCC is a plan in which the LCC serves as the ‘hub’ coordinating the various experiments being conducted by the member institutions,” Asai said. “Over the six years of IE3, the LCC will monitor its learnings and coordinate the shared budget and, if necessary, decide how to redistribute grant funds within the LCC.”

The collaborative IE3 approach promises to be an important model for organizations interested in catalyzing institutional change with respect to diversity and inclusion.

“IE3 places the responsibility of culture change on the community of experts – the students, faculty, staff, and administrators of the participating colleges and universities. I believe this collective accountability will encourage the sustainable change we need in science,” Asai said.


The schools participating in IE3 are:

Challenge: How can we make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive?

California State University-Stanislaus, Dalton State College, Fordham University, Franklin & Marshall College, Furman University, Gannon University, Haverford College, Illinois State University, Middlebury College, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, SUNY Empire State College, Trinity University, Universidad Ana G. Mendez-Cupey Campus, University of California-Riverside, University of California-Santa Cruz, Elon University, Fairfield University, Fisk University, Fort Lewis College, Hamilton College, Oglethorpe University, Otterbein University, Portland State University, Simmons University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota-Morris, University of New Mexico-Main Campus, Xavier University (Ohio), Allegheny College, Auburn University at Montgomery, California State University-East Bay, College of the Holy Cross, Emmanuel College (Massachusetts), Hartwick College, Mount Holyoke College, Nebraska Wesleyan University, Rollins College, St. John's University-New York, University of Akron Main Campus, University of Kansas, University of Virginia-Main Campus, Vanderbilt University

Challenge: How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure?

Bryn Mawr College, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia Southern University, Gettysburg College, Gustavus Adolphus College, North Carolina A & T State University, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus, Pomona College, Providence College, University of Georgia, University of La Verne, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus, University of Oregon, University of Portland, Whittier College, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, Centre College, Cleveland State University, Coker University, Drexel University, Georgia State University, Lane College, Marian University (Indiana), Occidental College, The College of Wooster, University of California-Irvine, University of Connecticut, University of Mississippi, University of Richmond, West Virginia University, Boise State University, College of Saint Benedict, CUNY Queens College, Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus, National University, Northwestern University, Skidmore College, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Tuskegee University, Union College, University of Maryland College Park, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Pennsylvania, University of Rhode Island, Willamette University

Challenge: How can we create genuine partnerships between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities so that transfer students have a more inclusive experience?

Clemson University, Florida International University, Florida State University, Howard University, King University, Michigan State University, Monmouth College, Montana State University, Rowan University, State University of New York at New Paltz, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Nevada-Reno, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wyoming, Washington State University-Vancouver

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