Driving Change

Program Update: Because of the large uncertainties in the kinetics of recovery from COVID—recovery in terms of human health, campus capacity, and global financial stability—we are pausing the Driving Change initiative. The competition is suspended until we have a clearer view of the readiness of HHMI and universities to execute this work successfully. Please visit this program page for more information about this decision and for program updates as they become available. You can also subscribe to HHMI News to receive announcements of future HHMI competitions.

Self-Study Webinar

Watch our pre-recorded webinar describing the Driving Change institutional self-study.

Watch the webinar

Goal and approach

The goal of the HHMI Driving Change (DC) initiative is to drive genuine and lasting culture change on university campuses so undergraduate students from all backgrounds, particularly those who belong to historically excluded groups, will excel in STEM and graduate from college well prepared to pursue advanced degrees and eventually assume leadership roles in STEM.

This initiative encourages a comprehensive approach to culture change with three interlocking elements:

  1. A robust framework to support student success in STEM

    The first element focuses on the development of a coherent set of activities that provides a robust framework to support student success in STEM. Each grantee campus will create its version of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Meyerhoff Scholars Program (MYSP), committing to achieve the outcomes and honor the underlying values of each of the MYSP components.
  2. A more inclusive STEM learning environment

    The second element focuses on creating a more inclusive STEM learning environment that affects all STEM students at the university. Each campus planning to submit a grant proposal will examine its current environment through a self-study. The findings of the self-study will identify practices and behaviors that should change in order to achieve greater inclusivity in the learning environment for all students, especially those students who are from groups historically excluded from STEM.
  3. A learning community of institutions

    The third element reaches beyond the individual grantee university by convening a learning community of institutions that are engaged in DC. The DC learning community will meet regularly throughout the five years of the initiative to share their aspirations, experiences, and progress.

Read Program Announcement »

Rationale: Systemic culture change is essential

Science excellence depends on our ability to harness the power of our nation’s diverse talent pool. When the scientific workforce reflects the full participation of persons from all backgrounds and perspectives, science will be better positioned to find creative solutions to difficult problems. Diversity is a hallmark of the United States and presents an incredible opportunity for higher education and science.

Unfortunately, for far too long, US science has effectively excluded large numbers of persons, and thus has failed to accrue the benefits of diversity.[1] This is not because students from underrepresented groups are disinterested in STEM. Indeed, students from historically excluded racial and ethnic groups are over-represented among students entering college intending to study STEM, but leave STEM at significantly higher rates than whites and Asian Americans so that they are poorly represented among STEM baccalaureates, are even fewer among STEM PhDs, and are fewer still among tenure-track STEM faculty. The disproportionate exodus from STEM during the undergraduate years cannot be attributed simply to poor preparation; non-white students depart STEM at significantly higher rates than white students with similar pre-college preparation.

The Driving Change initiative

Over the last several decades, the scientific community has mainly placed its efforts on student-centered interventions such as undergraduate research experiences, summer bridge activities, tutoring of students to make up perceived deficits in their preparation, and attention to mentoring and advising. While such interventions often benefit the student participants, they have generally not resulted in a lasting closure of the persistence gap. The evidence argues that strategies solely focused on activities to help students are important but not sufficient. If we are to reverse the decades-long pattern of excluding persons, it is necessary to also focus on the campus culture so the environment in which students find themselves is genuinely welcoming and conveys the expectation that all students will be successful. Further, in addition to what happens on each campus, it is important for universities that are engaged in this work to learn from one another.

In the HHMI DC initiative, each grantee university will

  1. create a student-centered suite of activities modeled after the MYSP,
  2. develop institution-centered approaches aimed at changing the learning environment for all students, and
  3. engage in community-centered learning to share with other universities its stories of progress and challenges.

Two HHMI initiatives, DC and Inclusive Excellence, seek to catalyze lasting institutional culture change. However, the two initiatives are distinct in their approaches. Inclusive Excellence encourages a variety of institution types to address the challenge of increasing institutional capacity for inclusion by examining the policies, practices, and behaviors of the faculty and staff. DC focuses on research universities as they pursue the dual strategy of adapting a prescribed student-centered model and improving the STEM learning environment experienced by all students.

The student-centered approach: the MYSP at UMBC is the model

The MYSP at UMBC is a powerful example of an effective student-centered approach. The MYSP is a strengths-based program that recruits high-achieving high school students who are interested in cultivating the knowledge and skills needed to become high-caliber scientists and express an interest in advancing diversity and inclusion in STEM. These students arrive on campus already well prepared to succeed in STEM, and the MYSP provides a suite of more than one dozen activities that together provide an academic and social framework in which the student participants are able to fulfill their potential and achieve at high levels.

Beginning in 2014, HHMI supported a pilot experiment, called the Meyerhoff Adaptation Project, in which two research universities, Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, developed their versions of the UMBC MYSP; their experiences help to inform the design of DC. As the new schools were developing their programs, it was important to understand the rationale for each of the MYSP components in terms of how the activity leads to program outcomes. The outcomes of the MYSP include:  

  • Students develop scientific self-efficacy and identity.
  • Students acquire the skills to be successful academically.
  • Students have access to appropriate resources to enable them to be successful.
  • Students believe in and commit to the values of the program.
  • The university explicitly and publicly values the program.
  • The program is a priority for the operations of the university, including, for example, admissions, financial aid, housing, scheduling, and the registrar.
  • The faculty assumes responsibility for the success of all students.

The institution-centered approach: changing the learning environment

Genuine culture change requires a systems approach comprising multiple strategies that together drive campus culture change. For lasting change, the student-centered activities cannot operate in isolation. Instead, they must be implemented in the context of a campus learning environment that is inclusive of all students. Examples of creating a more inclusive learning environment might include the overhaul of the STEM curriculum, restructuring the content and delivery of the STEM “gateway” courses, training STEM faculty in the skills of inclusive teaching and culturally aware mentoring, and changing the rewards system so that STEM faculty are encouraged to make meaningful contributions to advance diversity and inclusion. 

The community-centered approach: a learning community of universities

Just as the success of the student-centered activities depends on institution-centered efforts to create an inclusive learning environment, so too will the institution-centered activities be made more effective through a community-centered approach to learning. It is important for the persons engaged in driving culture change on each campus to come together in a learning community where they can share with one another their aspirations, challenges, and progress.

Read Program Announcement »

[1] The DC initiative focuses on students belonging to groups historically excluded from science, including racial, ethnic, and other underrepresented groups in the sciences, including persons with disabilities. It is recognized that underrepresentation can vary from setting to setting. As such, individuals from racial or ethnic groups, or individuals who come from a social, cultural, or educational environment that can be convincingly demonstrated to be historically marginalized or underrepresented at the post-secondary educational level and specifically supported by the proposing institution’s policies and resources, may be included.

The following racial and ethnic groups have been shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research: African Americans, LatinX/Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Alaska Natives, and natives of the US Pacific Island territories. Individuals with disabilities are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.

More Information:
National Science Foundation Publications and Data on Minorities

To be eligible for the HHMI Driving Change competition, an institution must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be a not-for-profit doctoral-granting university designated as “very high research activity” (R1) and “high research activity” (R2) institutions in the 2018 Carnegie Classification.
  • Offer and confer four-year baccalaureate degrees in one or more of the STEM disciplines.
  • Be accredited and in good standing with the appropriate regional accrediting organization.

The letter of intent submission is now closed. The last day to submit a letter of intent on behalf of your institution was February 7, 2020.

Click here for the list of Finalist Institutions.

Purpose of the self-study

The recovery from COVID will be a time for deep reflection by the scientific and educational communities. The institutional Self Study—which was to be a central element in the Driving Change proposal—is a timely and important opportunity for the university to bring to the forefront issues of diversity and inclusion. Thus, although the competition is suspended, we are encouraging the Driving Change finalist universities to develop and engage in their Self Study when they are able to do so.

Guide for institutional self-study »

Self-study questions

The institutional self-study will be a comprehensive assessment that covers a broad range of elements, including reflection on these questions:

  • What history, traditions, practices, and values are key contributors to how the institution defines itself, and how does this identity support or impede diversity and inclusion efforts?
  • What is the institution’s assessment of the current STEM learning environment with respect to inclusion, and what are the principal determiners of the environment?
  • What aspects of the current campus environment contribute to disparities between students from different backgrounds, especially students from groups historically excluded from the sciences?
  • If well prepared students are leaving STEM, why?
  • What are the institution’s current efforts aimed at increasing diversity, what is the institution’s assessment of the effectiveness of these efforts, and what has the institution learned from these efforts?
  • What is the current faculty perception of and active engagement in efforts to advance diversity and inclusion?
  • How will the DC program build upon what the campus is already doing so that greater progress toward inclusion can be achieved?

In the proposal, each finalist university will have the opportunity to communicate its commitment and readiness to engage in genuine culture change with respect to diversity and inclusion. In the proposal narrative, each university will respond to prompts in four sections, which are outlined below. Finalists will be provided additional information about the full proposal.

The proposal will have four main sections:

Findings from the institutional self-study

As it works to drive culture change, the university must know its starting point and assess its current efforts to advance diversity and inclusion. In the proposal, the university will share the outcomes of its self-study described earlier in this announcement.

Proposed activities

In alignment with the findings from the institutional self-study, the proposal will include the university’s detailed plans to develop the student-centered and institution-centered activities. The university will be asked to respond to questions such as these:

  1. How will the Driving Change (DC) student-centered program achieve the outcomes of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program (MYSP)? 
  2. How will the DC institution-centered program improve the STEM learning environment for all students?
  3. What is the expected impact of the DC program on the campus culture?
  4. How will the university engage a critical mass of active science faculty as leaders in the DC program?


It is essential that the university enunciate the desired outcomes of the planned activities and know how it will measure its progress toward achieving those outcomes in ways that will inform the university throughout the project. The university will be asked to respond to questions such as these:

  1. What is the expected impact on the campus culture of the student-centered activities, and how will it assess its progress toward these outcomes?
  2. What are the larger and longer-term changes in the learning environment the university seeks to achieve through the institution-centered efforts, and how will it measure change?

Marshalling resources and plans for sustainability

Ensuring the long-term success of the DC program will require a significant investment of university resources. Such an investment communicates to the campus the high priority the university places on culture change with respect to diversity and inclusion. In the proposal, it will be important for the university to describe its plans for allocating resources for the long-term. The university will be asked to respond to questions such as these:

  1. What are the anticipated costs of the new DC program – including financial aid, staffing, money, space, and the energy to reorganize offices and programs – and what are the plans to marshal these resources?
  2. How will the university evaluate the activities initiated through DC, and, if they are found to be effective, what are the plans to sustain the program after the HHMI grant is over?