CU Boulder, Front Range Community College among 104 recipients of Howard Hughes Medical Institute funding to boost inclusion in STEM fields.
Editor’s note: This news release was written by and published in the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences magazine.
Students who transfer from Front Range Community College (FRCC) to the University of Colorado Boulder might soon find the process easier, thanks to a six-year $470,666 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant, which supports the collaboration between the two institutions.
That grant is part of an $8.8 million grant for CU Boulder’s larger learning community collaboration, which focuses on successful transfer of community college students and aims to improve the diversity of students in the sciences nationwide.
“This HHMI grant recognizes the partnership that we are building with colleagues across the CU Boulder, FRCC Westminster and FRCC Boulder County Campuses,” said Lee Niswander, professor and chair of the CU Boulder Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.
“We are excited to be a part of a nationwide learning community to discuss and implement best practices to support the transfer of students from community college to a four-year institution to earn a baccalaureate degree in the life sciences.“
The CU Boulder/FRCC team will work on topics related to peer-mentoring and student research experiences in the life sciences.
“We are pleased to have provided FRCC students with summer research experiences over the past two years as part of CU Boulder faculty research teams, and we are preparing to select a new set of FRCC students for summer 2023,” Niswander added.
“This partnership will provide FRCC students a great opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research on the CU Boulder campus,” said Cheryl Hoke, chair of FRCC’s Westminster Campus Science Department.
“Undergraduate research experiences enhance students’ perceptions of themselves as scientists, help prepare them to transfer to a university setting, and lead to greater degree completion in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We are excited to continue our collaboration with CU faculty in support of students,” she said.
The Colorado partnership is among those from 104 colleges and universities that received 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, now support 161 schools nationwide as they design experiments that hope to improve the introductory undergraduate science experience, HHMI states.
“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 IE3 pre-proposals, each school picked one of three broad challenges to address:
- How can schools make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive?
- How can schools evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure?
- How can we create genuine partnerships between two- and four-year colleges and universities so that transfer students have a more inclusive experience? (This is the challenge targeted by the CU/FRCC collaboration.)
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, HHMI states.
Of the nearly 1 million students who enter college annually intending to study STEM, more than half will not complete a STEM bachelor’s degree, student data show. 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, HHMI observes. For non-transfer students, this departure from STEM typically occurs during or immediately after the first year in college.
Besides Niswander, the CU Boulder collaborators include Julie Graf and Lisa Romero de Mendoza, both with the Biological Sciences Initiative.