$20k grant to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM classes

March 1, 2019

Brandeis received a $20,000 grant from the Association of American Universities (AAU) to improve diversity and inclusivity in STEM classes. The goal is to create less of a barrier in STEM classes for students from all backgrounds and levels of experience.

The grant funding will provide for three to four student-faculty partnerships in select STEM courses over the grant’s two years. The students and faculty members will work together to improve the educational benefits as well as inclusivity in classes. This will allow Brandeis faculty to better support STEM students, according to an article from BrandeisNOW.

Before the Fall 2019 semester, the student-faculty partnerships will attend a series of workshops in preparation for the program. In the fall, these students—who must have previously taken the course—will attend classes and take notes on what the professors do well and how it could be improved. The classes have not yet been determined, but Professor Irving R. Epstein (CHEM) anticipates most of them to be introductory science courses, according to an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

The students and faculty members will also meet every week to share their feedback. In addition to identifying critiques of the classes, these meetings will allow students to share which aspects of the courses are most helpful for learning. “For example, a partnership might want to consider how to encourage greater participation in discussions from women or underrepresented minorities,” Epstein told The Hoot in an email.

“We are hoping that by incorporating real-time student feedback into our courses, we can begin to create more inclusive classroom environments that actively promote the learning and engagement of all students wishing to study STEM,” wrote Professor Melissa Kosinski-Collins (BIO), a project leader, in an email to The Hoot. “We are hoping to create a situation where students are given an opportunity for their voices and needs to be heard, while faculty get the feedback they need in real-time to help inform their teaching.”

The workshops are designed by Alison Cook-Sather, an education professor at Bryn Mawr College. The leaders of the student-faculty program are Epstein, Kosinski-Collins and Kim Godsoe, associate provost for academic affairs. These faculty leaders will not be involved in student partnerships but will oversee the program.

The program will ideally increase retention of STEM majors, according to Epstein. “We know that nationally, less than half of the students who enter university planning to major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics actually complete a STEM major. We at Brandeis have been dedicated to improving our students’ ability to succeed in those fields,” Epstein noted in the BrandeisNOW article.

This is the second grant within a year focused on fostering science education at Brandeis. In June 2018, the university received a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence Initiative. This grant also focused on improving accessibility and support in STEM classes, as well as establishing low-enrollment practicum courses.

“I was delighted that such a prestigious organization is a) supporting improvements in STEM education and b) recognizing Brandeis for its efforts in this area,” noted Epstein in an email to The Hoot. The AAU invited member institutions to apply and ultimately awarded grants to 12 institutions. Brandeis is smaller than most AAU institutions, so the grant is expected to have a larger impact.

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