Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) recently announced that SUNY Empire State is one of a select group of colleges and universities receiving phase-two grants through its Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative.
The grant will help SUNY Empire continue its critical work in ensuring inclusion of all students in science. The college is one of only two SUNY institutions chosen to participate in this prestigious national program funded by one of the largest research philanthropies in science.
SUNY Empire’s grant—totaling $531,600 over six years—along with prior funding for previous phases, is being used to design experiments aimed at improving the introductory undergraduate science experience for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Along with 14 cohort institutions, including University of California Santa Cruz, Fordham University, and Middlebury College, SUNY Empire will be tasked with finding ways to make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive through faculty development, student engagement, and curricular change.
SUNY Empire also was selected to participate in the first phase of the project, which began in April 2021 and ends in March. In this phase, SUNY Empire worked with its partner institutions to identify and better understand institutional and cultural barriers to inclusion at colleges and universities of all sizes and geographies. SUNY Empire’s work specifically focused on systemic issues that affect the student learning experience in introductory natural science courses, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science.
As a recognized pioneer in distance and online learning, SUNY Empire is well-positioned to help create an inclusive excellence model for accessible, flexible learning experiences in the sciences. The college has been designing and teaching online science courses for more than 20 years, and distance-learning courses for more than half a century.
SUNY Empire’s program director for the IE3 initiative is Audeliz Matías, Ph.D., associate professor of natural sciences and interim chief diversity officer. The SUNY Empire team also includes Mary Mawn, Ph.D. dean, School of Science, Mathematics and Technology; Diana Siberio-Perez, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics; and Kevin Woo, Ph.D., department chair and associate professor in the Department of Natural Sciences.
Over the past six years, HHMI has awarded more than $60 million in funding to institutions committed to building more inclusive practices in their STEM programs.
In the HHMI announcement, Blanton Tolbert, HHMI’s vice president of science leadership and culture, said, “Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a scientific culture that is centered on equity. 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.”
SUNY Empire State President Lisa Vollendorf, Ph.D. said the college “has been SUNY’s innovative, access-oriented institution. We are committed to increasing access through equitable and inclusive practices in admissions, pedagogy, and student support services and helping to build a strong, diverse, and well-educated workforce in New York state and beyond.”
Audeliz Matías, Ph.D., associate professor of natural sciences at SUNY Empire said the grant “is an incredible opportunity for SUNY Empire to thoughtfully promote inclusive excellence in STEM teaching and learning with the goal of improving self-efficacy and belonging in students. This project is particularly exciting because it focuses on how we teach by shifting the mindset from ‘fixing the student’ to examining current structures and curricular barriers that are getting in the way of student success, especially for historically underrepresented students in STEM.”
Kevin Woo, Ph.D., department chair and associate professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at SUNY Empire said, “Providing access to accessible, equitable, and inclusive STEM learning is an important goal for training the next wave of future scientists and researchers. This is a wonderful opportunity for SUNY Empire State to support our students by employing innovative pedagogical strategies that progressively challenge outdated approaches and that have historically been barriers for academic success. The knowledge gained from implementing this project can be applicable toward other institutional and professional organizations that may further promote STEM across the educational community.”