UW–Madison to Co-Lead $10 Million NSF Grant to Cultivate a More Diverse, Inclusive STEM Faculty

Project Seeks to Enable More Underrepresented Students to Succeed in STEM Fields

September 6, 2018

STEM grad students explore instructional materials in a class offered by the Delta Program, UW–Madison’s CIRTL community.

STEM grad students explore instructional materials in a class offered by the Delta Program, UW–Madison’s CIRTL community.

To broaden participation in STEM programs and fields, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the award of a five-year, $10 million NSF INCLUDES Alliance grant to be co-led by UW–Madison’s Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

CIRTL is a collaborative network of 39 research universities based in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) within UW‒Madison’s School of Education. Funding for this new alliance builds on an earlier NSF INCLUDES pilot project awarded to CIRTL in 2016.

“NSF INCLUDES was conceived as a sustained effort, a recognition that a problem as complex as the need to broaden participation in STEM requires a long-term, collaborative approach,” says NSF Director France Córdova. “After laying the groundwork through pilot projects, NSF INCLUDES is taking a significant step toward creating a true national network with these new awards.”

Joining the lead institutions in the National Alliance for Inclusive and Diverse STEM Faculty are Iowa State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Georgia; and University of Texas at El Paso. These universities will partner with dozens of other universities, two-year colleges and organizations across the country to scale practices aimed at diversifying the nation’s STEM college educators and grounding them in inclusive teaching practices. 

The new alliance seeks to attract and retain more underrepresented students—women, members of minority racial and ethnic groups, persons with disabilities and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds—in STEM college programs, and prepare them to succeed in a modern STEM workforce.

To accomplish this, the alliance will:

  • deepen the preparation of all future, early-career and current STEM faculty to be inclusive and effective in their undergraduate teaching, research mentoring and advising;
  • diversify college faculty nationally through effective recruitment, hiring and retention of underrepresented STEM faculty via institutional transformation in practices, policies and resources;
  • foster postsecondary institutional cultures that recognize and value inclusivity and diversity broadly, and in the context of STEM faculty work specifically.

“We are delighted to be among the first recipients of NSF’s INCLUDES Alliance awards,” states Robert Mathieu, an astronomy professor at UW–Madison who co-directs the new alliance. “Despite the importance of a more diverse faculty and the use of more inclusive practices by all faculty to advance learning and student success, improvement efforts have not been as successful as needed, particularly in STEM subjects. For example, underrepresented minority faculty are a mere 8 percent of associate and full professors in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Data show that when diverse faculty members teach underrepresented students, these students achieve at significantly higher rates, shrinking achievement gaps in those classes by 20 to 50 percent.”

Similarly, research reveals that undergraduates leave STEM studies due to uneven quality of teaching, mentoring and advising. Non-inclusive classrooms, ineffective teaching, poor mentoring in undergraduate research experiences and inadequate advising can prevent learners from persisting and succeeding in STEM majors. Mathieu emphasizes, “The challenge is not lack of research understanding about which inclusive practices yield greater and more equitable undergraduate learning and persistence. The challenge is enabling faculty to use these practices.”

The project’s overarching strategy is to bring about national systemic change for STEM faculty by aligning and reinforcing professional development and hiring practices simultaneously at institutional, regional and national levels. To foster institutional change, the alliance will assist institutions to self-assess and improve their underrepresented group hiring and retention practices, and the inclusive teaching practices of their entire faculty.

Regional collaboratives of two-year colleges, four-year universities, local research universities and businesses will work together to develop and on-board skilled and diverse faculty in two-year colleges, where many underrepresented students begin higher education.

Finally, the alliance will work on the national scale by partnering with disciplinary, underrepresented group-serving and professional development organizations. This part of the alliance work will be headed by Don Gillian-Daniel, associate director of the Delta Program for Research, Teaching and Learning, UW–Madison’s CIRTL learning community