Fairfield Awarded $378K Grant From Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Fairfield Awarded $378K Grant From Howard Hughes Medical Institute


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence 3 Initiative is aimed at transforming the introductory experience for STEM students.

A team of science and mathematics faculty members at Fairfield University has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to transform the introductory experience for STEM students, with the goal of improving retention and success for all students, especially for students of color and others who have been traditionally excluded from these disciplines.

Fairfield University is part of a 14-institution Learning Community Cluster (LCC) that was collectively awarded $8M for this 6-year collaborative effort. In addition to the individual institutional awards, the entire LCC will share approximately $2M to jointly explore, develop, and implement new approaches, programs, and structures that will reshape the first-year experience for STEM students on all 14 campuses. Through DEI-focused professional development in STEM, redesign of introductory science and math courses, and creation of an inclusive STEM community within and outside of the classroom, this effort will contribute to the creation of a stronger and more diverse STEM workforce in the future.

"We are thrilled to have this opportunity,” said Shelley Phelan, PhD. “We are thankful to the many faculty, administrators, and staff at Fairfield University who have helped to support this effort thus far, and we look forward to the meaningful changes we hope to make for our STEM students over these next six years — and beyond." 

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is one of the most well-recognized and prestigious institutes that supports science research and education worldwide. In 2019, HHMI initiated the third round of its Inclusive Excellence (IE) initiative, which aims to increase institutional capacity for inclusive learning for students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

A representative team of four Fairfield faculty members led the effort: Dr. Phelan, PhD (Department of Biology); Jill Smith-Carpenter, PhD (Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry); Laura McSweeney, PhD (Department of Mathematics); and Angela Biselli, PhD (Department of Physics); with support and input from key divisions across the University. With a revised process when the IE3 initiative resumed in 2021, 108 institutions were selected from 354 original applicants, and 104 went on to participate in the Phase 1 Learning Community Clusters (LCC), each focused on a particular challenge related to student inclusion in STEM.

 “Over the past year, we have built a collaborative community with our partner institutions and have developed approaches to better understand barriers to inclusion and success for students in STEM,” Dr. Phelan said.  Fairfield University received a $30K grant from HHMI to do this Phase 1 work, and to work with the LCC to submit a joint proposal in August 2022 for the 6-year Phase 2 part of the project.

Dr. Phelan: “The Fairfield core team is deeply committed to this initiative, and we are excited to strengthen partnerships with many key offices on campus in this effort so we can more fully understand our students’ experiences and challenges."

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