Howard Hughes Medical Institute Awards Union College Inclusive Education Grant

Avanti Khare, Sci-Tech Editor

Union College was awarded a grant from the renowned Howard Hughes Medical Institute to strengthen the study and teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for all of its students, according to a Union College News article from November 2022. The HHMI is a nonprofit organization focused on research and philanthropy to advance science and education. For this grant, the organization will contribute $505,000 over six years to support Union College’s efforts. This grant is part of the HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative. The HHMI IE3 initiative challenges U.S. colleges and universities “to substantially and sustainably build their capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.” In total, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has invested $60 million in 104 colleges, focusing on what happens during introductory STEM classes, because that is when most students drop out of STEM programs. Of the nearly one million students who enter college each year intending to study STEM, more than half do not complete a STEM bachelor’s degree and are more likely to be first-generation college students, transfer students from community colleges, or students from “historically excluded ethnic and racial groups”, according to the HHMI.The IE3 program is distinct from previous HHMI science education initiatives because it begins with a learning phase. During this period, learning communities envision how to move cooperatively into an implementation phase.

During Union’s learning phase last winter, Jennifer Fredricks, Dean of Academic Departments and Programs, and David Cotter, professor of sociology, interviewed dozens of students with different trajectories in STEM disciplines to collect feedback on how Union College supports its STEM students. The information from these interviews was shared with STEM departments, which discussed ways the grant could support departmental goals.

For its next phase in the IE3 initiative, Union is part of a cluster with 15 other institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University, which will focus on specific areas such as meaningful and inclusive teaching, which will inform faculty practices, including promotion and tenure decisions. At other colleges, this grant is supporting efforts to make introductory science classes more inclusive and to create better partnerships for transfer students between community colleges and four-year colleges.