Occidental College has been selected to be a part of a nationwide, 15-institution cohort that will explore new ways to promote inclusive excellence in STEM higher education.

The 6-year, $505,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will fund faculty initiatives in peer teaching mentorship, development of inclusive course curricula, and cultivating a community that supports inclusive practices in STEM.

“We are proud to be part of this innovative and collaborative effort, one that builds on Occidental's longstanding commitment to inclusive STEM,” says Amanda Zellmer, associate professor of biology and co-principal investigator with Justin Li, associate professor of cognitive science and computer science.

“Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a scientific culture that is centered on equity,” Blanton Tolbert, HHMI vice president of science leadership and culture, says in HHMI's announcement. “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.”

The grant is part of HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence 3 Learning Community, which connects multiple institutions to share ideas and collaborate on their respective efforts. Working with Occidental in the same learning community cluster are Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Centre College, Cleveland State University, Coker University, Drexel University, Georgia State University, Lane College, Marian University, The College of Wooster, UC Irvine, University of Connecticut, University of Mississippi, University of Richmond, and West Virginia University.

The group worked with HHMI over the last two years, leading to a 6-year plan for a total of $8.5 million in funding for the cluster. A total of 104 colleges and universities are participating in the program, backed by more than $60 million in grants.

Together, Occidental and its partners will be working on six projects, including:

  • Understanding student belonging in STEM
  • Data on practices and outcomes
  • Data to drive change
  • Faculty incentives, rewards, and evaluation structures
  • Common definitions of inclusive excellence
  • Faculty development

Occidental’s core HHMI team, which also includes Professor of Cognitive Science Carmel Levitan and Carl F. Braun Professor of Chemistry Eileen Spain, will work with the Center for Teaching Excellence; Vice President for Equity and Justice David Carreon Bradley; Justice, Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity Education Specialist José Cisneros; Dean of the College Wendy Sternberg; and current and former associate deans Salvador Fernandez, Kathryn Leonard and Ron Buckmire.

The award recognizes Occidental’s deep commitment to inclusive STEM and will complement numerous other initiatives on campus. These include the NSF-funded Creating Opportunities in Science and Mathematics for Occidental Students (COSMOS) program, which provides scholarships for STEM majors with very high financial need, and the Research Early Access (REAP) program, funded by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, which supports early access to research for underrepresented and first-generation students.