HHMI Grant Part 2: Professor Theodosiou on inclusive education

Avanti Khare, Sci-Tech Editor

Professor Nicole Theodosiou is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and the current Project Director of the HHMI Inclusive Excellence Initiative 3 (IE3). According to Professor Theodosiou, the IE3 aims to recognize the problem of diversity in STEM fields. This initiative falls in line with Union College’s existing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work as well as the Strategic Plan. She stressed that in a traditional grant, money is given to a recipient institution with a specific purpose, such as funding programs to retain students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who are pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math subjects. In contrast, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has grouped the 104 recipient institutions into a learning cluster. Union college is part of a learning group of 15 total schools that coordinate plans and learn from each other. Other schools in this group include large universities such as the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University, small schools such as Skidmore College, as well as historically black colleges and universities such as National University. This learning group exists for institutions to share resources between each other, such as feedback and ideas.

Professor Theodosiou stressed that there are two goals for the IE3 Initiative. One of which is to provide professional development and training in inclusive pedagogy for faculty. Additionally, the resources from this grant will be used to examine how policies for the promotion of faculty reflect inclusive teaching. She highlighted that part of the current work involves giving faculty the support and space to learn about inclusive pedagogy to help them design more inclusive courses and activities so that every student can succeed in STEM fields. Part of this work involves recognizing the work that faculty have to do in order to facilitate a more inclusive classroom environment, such as a consideration of commitment to inclusive teaching during promotion evaluations. Professor Theodosiou recognized that this grant would allow faculty a space to experiment with alternative forms of teaching, as comparatively few faculty do teaching assistant work at the PhD level and may consequently start their faculty positions without much formal teaching experience.

Union College is currently in the learning phase of the five year IE3 Initiative. Currently, Union college is in the stage of gathering information and planning. According to Professor Theodosiou, the working group is currently initiating conversations with faculty and departments using previously gathered data from student interviews about the student experience in the classroom and what is inclusive pedagogy on campus. Firstly, the group needs to work towards a common definition of inclusive pedagogy. Starting next year, groups of faculty will get together to read studies and discuss best practices in learning and teaching and try those methods in their classrooms and report back to their discussion groups.

In the future, Professor Theodosiou mentioned that the working group would like to eventually bring students into the conversation surrounding inclusive pedagogy. She envisions a program where students would be able to partner with faculty in a class and help revise assignments and give feedback on class dynamics. She stressed that ultimately the IE3 Initiative is in support of student outcomes even if the grant directly funds faculty training.