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FSU receives $1 million grant to boost diversity in STEM

By Nadira Wicaksana

FSU received a $1 million grant in June aimed at increasing academic success of underrepresented students pursuing STEM degrees. The grant will implemented over the course of the next five years.

It was awarded to the University by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), as part of its Inclusive Excellence Initiative. This year, FSU is one of 33 schools across the country to receive the grant, according to a June 20 press release from the University.

According to the press release, the grant will “fund a five-year project aimed at increasing the academic success and persistence of Arst-generation and underrepresented students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).”

Catherine Dignam, chair of the chemistry and food science department, said applying for the grant was a three-year-long journey. According to Dignam, schools that wish to apply for the grant must receive an invitation from HHMI.

“Normally, a school like Framingham State wouldn’t be invited,” she said.

Dignam said, however, there was an open call for schools to submit pre-proposals explaining what they would do were they to receive the grant. She said the dean of STEM, Margaret Carroll, gave her the opportunity to write the pre-proposal three years ago.

Carroll was unable to be reached for comment.

Dignam wrote the grant with the idea of “increasing capacity for inclusion in STEM,” she said.

“The main idea [of the pre-proposal] was that if we wanted to create significant change within an institution, starting with the faculty is a good idea, because the definition of a university is that it’s made up of faculty,” she said.

Dignam said while many STEM faculty leave graduate school highly skilled in their fields of expertise, they are not as experienced in issues of diversity and inclusivity and how to integrate them into their curricula.

“My idea was to have a really intensive faculty development experience – to allow faculty to become more thoughtful and comfortable, as they design their courses, in a way that would be more inclusive,” she added.

It was after reviewing the pre-proposal that HHMI decided to invite FSU to submit a full proposal, which led to HHMI awarding FSU the $1 million grant this year.

Dignam added the grant will be used to fund projects, including Transparent Pathways in STEM. According to the press release, the project “aims to redesign academic pathways and curricula in a way that removes obstacles to student success and levels the playing field for all students, particularly those from underrepresented groups.”

Dignam said she is glad to see high numbers of underrepresented groups in STEM at FSU compared to other programs at competing institutions.

“Biology is majority-minority – meaning the majority of biology majors belong to underrepresented groups,” Dignam said.

In the press release, President F. Javier Cevallos said, “This is an incredible opportunity for the University to enhance its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. Science and technology are crucial to the state’s innovation economy, but there is still a large achievement gap for first-generation and minority students training in these important fields.”

He added, “We are truly grateful to the Howard Hughes Institute for awarding us this grant as we seek to take important steps to close that gap.”

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