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Three-Year Grant Will Support Equity in STEM Programs

By Melyssa Allen

Three-Year Grant Will Support Equity in STEM Programs

By Melyssa Allen

Meredith College has received a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to support equitable pedagogical practices in STEM higher education.

The project “Cultivating Equitable and Inclusive Pedagogical Practices in STEM Higher Education,” which is funded for three years, aims to create fully inclusive and equity-based STEM programs at Meredith.

Principal Investigators on this grant are Director of Sponsored Programs Janey Sturtz McMillen and Dean of the School of Natural and Mathematical Sciences Liz Wolfinger. Co-investigators are Professor of Biology Francie Cuffney, Professor of Chemistry Walda Powell, Instructor of Mathematics Julie Kolb, and Assistant Dean of Students Tomecca Sloane.

Institutions of higher education, including Meredith, have focused for more than 15 years on attracting and retaining historically underrepresented students in STEM majors. Despite an increased number of underrepresented students enrolling in STEM majors, there remains a significant gap in the number of these students who complete degrees in STEM, indicating a lack of success in truly addressing the underlying issues. New research looking at why students persist in these majors shows STEM instructor teaching methods have the largest effect on both switching to a non-STEM major (96%) and persisting in a STEM major (72%).

Meredith’s campus-wide anti-racism initiative helped inspire this effort to study and improve the inclusiveness of pedagogy in STEM courses. The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have a strong track record of working with private institutions of higher education to tackle similar issues.

“The entire team is very excited to begin this project and we feel we have the support of the administration to really engage in the deep work needed to truly have an impact,” said Wolfinger. “We appreciate all of the support we have been given as we approached this issue and looked for ways to address it.”

The grant will allow Meredith’s STEM faculty to take a close look at current courses and teaching strategies to ensure they are as inclusive as possible. Once opportunities for improvement are identified, the grant will provide training for faculty that supports making identified changes with the assistance of experts in inclusive pedagogy.

“As a result of this work, Meredith STEM faculty will be able to increase their knowledge regarding barriers to inclusive and equity-based instruction and feel more prepared to deliver courses reflecting inclusive excellence,” said McMillen. “We are committed to doing the deep work that ensures this shift in STEM curricula and teaching practices is not just at a surface level.”

The multi-year nature of the project allows time to address needed change. It began in August 2021 with an initial needs assessment with faculty and students that focuses on identifying how STEM curricula and teaching approaches could be more inclusive and equitable. Information gained from this assessment will be used to design an inclusive pedagogy workshop for Meredith STEM faculty in May 2022. The lessons learned from the workshop will help faculty revise their courses in order to make sure subsequent STEM courses are more inclusive and equity-based. Revised courses resulting from this review will be offered in fall 2022 or spring 2023.

“As students are taking these courses, we will undertake a second round of needs assessment to see if there is still room for improvement and if students feel these courses are truly inclusive and equity-based,” McMillen said. “That information will be used to design a second workshop for STEM faculty in May of 2023, which will support additional revisions to courses and teaching practices that will be implemented in the following academic year and again assessed for inclusive excellence.”

Assessment is embedded throughout the project and findings will be shared regularly.

“Meredith will employ an outside evaluator who can provide an objective assessment of whether or not we are engaging in the truly deep work that is needed to achieve our goals,” McMillen said. “We will be updating the campus on our progress through-out the project and plan to share our findings via a project website and STEM Cafes that can be attended by anyone on campus interested in the project.”

About the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations were organized in 1952 and are supported by two trusts established by Mr. Arthur Vining Davis. The Foundations aim to bear witness to Mr. Davis’ successful corporate leadership and his ambitious philanthropic vision. Since their inception, the Foundations have given over 3,800 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities, hospitals, medical schools, and divinity schools.