COW receives grant for STEM research mentoring

COW receives grant for STEM research mentoring

Image Credit: Matt Dilyard

The College of Wooster has received a grant of $475,000 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence 3 initiative for work over the next six years on inclusive excellence in research mentoring in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The initiative challenged United States colleges and universities to sustainably build capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences. The institute announced in late November that 104 colleges and universities received grants through the IE3 initiative to continue their 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 are now supporting 161 schools nationwide as they design experiments aimed at improving the introductory undergraduate science experience.

Wooster is part of a Learning Community Cluster collaborating with 14 other institutions of various sizes from around the country. The institutions will collaborate to develop professional-development resources and opportunities for faculty and staff that address inclusive teaching and evaluate those techniques in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure. At Wooster, the grant will support faculty learning communities on inclusive research mentoring.

“Mentored research is a key component of a Wooster education; however, many faculty do not receive formal training in the skills of mentoring in general and inclusive mentoring in particular,” said Laura Sirot, professor of biology who served as lead applicant on the grant. “We hope that the work we do through the use of this grant will help to improve the research mentoring skills of Wooster faculty and thus the feeling of community, inclusion and belonging for our students.”

Sirot and co-leaders at Wooster — Amy Jo Stavnezer, professor of neuroscience; Karl Feierabend, associate professor of chemistry; Meagen Pollock, professor of earth sciences; and Missy Schen, director of educational assessment — will develop a plan for the first Faculty Learning Community, which will run in fall 2023 on inclusive research mentoring.

The team received a starter grant of $30,000 in May 2021 that supported workshops, attendance at conferences, developing and researching ideas, and preparing the proposal for the larger grant. The new grant will support the development of the FLCs, their implementation and participation, mini grants for participants, assessment of inclusive research mentoring, attendance at workshops and conferences, visits by experts, and collaboration with the other 14 institutions.

As outlined in its announcement, HHMI developed the initiative to help the schools focus on designing strategies to prevent the loss of talent from STEM that occurs during the college years. 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. 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.

Wooster brings an important perspective to the Learning Community Cluster of institutions for data collection and implementation because of smaller STEM faculty numbers and class sizes juxtaposed with larger institutions. A pre-existing STEM faculty learning community at Wooster has met regularly for eight years and hosts an annual STEM inclusive teaching workshop at the start of each year.

Further, Wooster’s individually mentored Independent Study project with all seniors each year allows STEM faculty to tailor the definition of inclusive teaching to inclusive research mentoring, a component of the relationship Wooster faculty members develop with students. The grant from HHMI allows the community to build upon the inclusivity of this practice using the faculty learning community model.

The grant will impact Wooster students by bringing them into conversations about inclusive research mentoring and by providing faculty with more training and time to think about, discuss, constructively critique and adjust their mentoring practices. This gives educators more tools to make them aware of potential pitfalls and best practices in inclusive research mentoring.