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FLC pursues inclusive undergraduate science education with support of major funder

FLC pursues inclusive undergraduate science education with support of major funder

Fort Lewis College is one of 104 schools receiving six-year grants as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative. IE3 challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably build capacity for student belonging, especially for those historically excluded from the sciences.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced Fort Lewis College as one of 104 colleges and universities receiving a six-year grant through HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative to continue their critical work to build capacity for the inclusion of all students in science.

The IE3 grants total more than $60 million over six years and are a part of HHMI’s national portfolio of experiments aimed at improving the introductory undergraduate science experience.

“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 their IE3 pre-proposals, each school picked one of three broad challenges to address: 

  1. How can we make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive?
  2. How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system, including faculty promotion and tenure?
  3. How can we create genuine partnerships between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities so that transfer students have a more inclusive experience?

FLC is addressing the first challenge. Steve Fenster, interim dean of the School of Science & Health, is leading the IE3 efforts along with faculty members Joslynn Lee (Chemistry), Sherri Spriggs (Mathematics), Keisha Carlson (Biology), and Joanna Casey (Physics and Engineering). 

"We are thrilled to have this funding along with a unique collaborative framework to design and fund projects and programs that will interest, engage, and support our first-year STEM majors," Casey said.

In its announcement, HHMI notes that 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. More than half of the nearly one million students who enter college annually intending to study STEM will not complete a STEM bachelor’s degree. Those who leave STEM are disproportionately students who are the first in their family to attend college, students who begin at community colleges, and students from historically excluded ethnic and racial groups.

"This project aims to do nothing less than change the future of STEM by welcoming students from underrepresented backgrounds into STEM education, careers, and leadership—a project we are clearly proud to join and bring our expertise to."


“Fort Lewis College is honored to be selected as a grant participant in the HHMI "Inclusive Excellence 3" program, which promises to transform the success of our students in our introductory STEM courses. HHMI emphasizes inclusive approaches to designing STEM degrees,” said FLC Provost Cheryl Nixon. “This project aims to do nothing less than change the future of STEM by welcoming students from underrepresented backgrounds into STEM education, careers, and leadership—a project we are clearly proud to join and bring our expertise to.”

The IE3 initiative targets the introductory STEM experience because that is when most of the departure from STEM occurs. For non-transfer students, this departure from STEM typically occurs during or immediately after the first year in college.

Collaboration and accountability

Collaboration is the organizing principle of IE3. The HHMI team has implemented a new strategy to reinforce and catalyze learning and sharing—grouping the 104 schools into seven Learning Community Clusters, or LCCs, with each LCC comprising approximately 15 schools.

FLC is grouped with Elon University, Fairfield University, Fisk University, Hamilton College (New York), Oglethorpe University, Otterbein University, Portland State University, Simmons University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota-Morris, University of New Mexico-Main Campus, and Xavier University (Ohio). 

“Our learning community is focused on developing strategies to remove barriers to student success in STEM,” Fenster said. “Already we have developed a framework that defines critical terminology, embraces and embodies principles of equity and inclusion, and articulates the framing question that will guide our work going forward developing collaborative inter-institutional programs to address issues of equity and inclusion in STEM education.”

“Under the leadership of Interim Dean Steve Fenster, FLC is engaging in innovative approaches to STEM. This all-star team of faculty will develop this important work with HHMI,” Nixon said. “We look forward to partnering with HHMI, working with our Learning Community, and adding our voice to this national conversation.”

FLC’s LCC will work on projects spanning three areas: institutionalize professional development practices and resources to create safe, equitable, and supportive teaching and learning communities; establish collaborative processes for evaluating and redesigning introductory STEM courses; and create peer-to-peer cultures of support through student connections.

The collaborative IE3 approach promises to be an important model for organizations interested in catalyzing institutional change with respect to diversity and inclusion.

“IE3 places the responsibility of culture change on the community of experts—the students, faculty, staff, and administrators of the participating colleges and universities. I believe this collective accountability will encourage the sustainable change we need in science,” said David Asai, HHMI senior director for science education.

Read HHMI's IE3 announcement

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