Howard Hughes Medical Institute Commits $30K to Fairfield for STEM Initiatives

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Commits $30K to Fairfield for STEM Initiatives

Fairfield students in biology lab

The prestigious learning grant is part of an initiative to help increase the capacity of colleges and universities to include all students, but especially those who have been historically excluded from science.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance basic biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. Their Inclusive Excellence initiative (IE3) grant program challenges colleges and universities to work with faculty to examine and change campus cultures so that a diverse group of students feels included in the sciences.

“These grants are helping schools build their capacity for inclusion,” says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education. "That’s key for fostering an environment that supports students from all backgrounds, he said, including transfer students, people who are the first in their family to attend college, and those from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups."

Each of the 106 institutions that made a commitment in March 2021 to the IE3 was assigned to a Learning Community Cluster (LCC). LCCs are groups of approximately 15 institutions organized by the IE3 challenge they selected in their pre-proposal and include a diverse mix of degree-granting institution types. The diverse groupings are intended to maximize learning so that their differences allow them collectively to be a powerful force for change.

Fairfield's $30,000 award is one of several stages in the overall competition, and will support the University’s participation in HHMI’s LCC. Spearheading this effort for the College of Arts and Sciences is a faculty group that comprises the HHMI Leadership Team at Fairfield: Shelley Phelan, PhD, (biology), Jillian Smith-Carpenter, PhD, (chemistry), Laura McSweeney, PhD, (mathematics) and Angela Biselli (physics).

Fairfield’s HHMI Leadership Team has already engaged in intensive workshops and plans to continue learning throughout this phase of the grant, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as they consider the STEM experience of first-year students at Fairfield. The group will also be conducting focus groups with Fairfield students to obtain "true student voices on DEI."

“We are planning faculty development around DEI, including workshops to learn about what can be done and the kinds of institutional actions that could be put in place to better support students in science and math,” said project director Dr. Phelan. “What we are hoping to do in the summer is to begin to share what we’ve learned with our departments and get a broader conversation happening around DEI in STEM.”

Learn more about STEM at Fairfield University

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