VCU awarded $1M to engage more students in science regardless of background

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has selected 33 colleges and universities, including Virginia Commonwealth University, for its 2018 Inclusive Excellence initiative, which aims to help schools find ways to engage more students in science ­­­— especially those from underrepresented groups, such as minorities, first-generation students, and working adults with families.

The 33 selected schools join the 24 selected in 2017, making a total of 57 schools that will each receive $1 million in grant support over five years. The schools will work with the institute and its partner, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, to implement culture change.

For VCU, changing the culture means partnering with John Tyler and J. Sargeant Reynolds community colleges to transform the way that faculty engage with students in science, technology, engineering and math courses and to foster a STEM-nurturing environment that can support and respond to the needs of a diverse student body.

“The HHMI Initiative at VCU will accelerate our university’s curricular and co-curricular transformation efforts designed to promote undergraduate student engagement, learning and success,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president for inclusive excellence. “The initiative’s inclusive excellence strategy focused on STEM education will both enhance and expand our university’s capacity to support an increasingly diverse and dynamic student population.”

More than 7,000 students — the majority of which will be transfer students — and 75 faculty members from VCU, John Tyler and Reynolds will be affected by the grant, said Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, Ph.D., program director for the initiative and associate vice president for assessment and transformation in the Division for Inclusive Excellence.

“The HHMI Inclusive Excellence award will position VCU and our community college partners, John Tyler Community College and J. Sargent Reynolds, to increase the use of inclusive pedagogy in STEM classes, build the administrative infrastructure for transfer students and enhance institutional climate to promote student success,” Hargraves said.

The goals for the grant also include establishing the Science Learning Center, an incubator for innovative programs and collaborations to serve VCU’s STEM students. 

To facilitate idea sharing among grantee colleges and universities, the institute has assigned each school to a Peer Implementation Cluster, a community of four to five Inclusive Excellence schools. Each school will receive funding from HHMI to support its participation.