Michael Winters, a WVU School of Medicine graduate student, quantifies SARS-CoV-2 virus using fixed cells under a microscope at the Martinez Lab. Current and future STEM students will get more support through a nationwide initiative WVU officially joins this month. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

WVU joins national effort to make collegiate science education more inclusive

“Bold change” designed to better support current and future STEM students through more inclusive teaching is the goal of a nationwide initiative West Virginia University officially joins this month.

“I am excited to see this new effort take off, and to expand the myriad ways we support underserved students here at WVU,” President Gordon Gee said.

As part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence 3 initiative, WVU will receive $475,000 in grant funding to support local work and research to improve the introductory undergraduate science experience in collaboration with other institutions nationwide.

“WVU’s participation in the IE3 initiative helps to ensure we are a student-ready institution — able to support the success of all students and prepare them for excellent career outcomes, no matter their background,” Maryanne Reed, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said. “This support from HHMI will allow us to carefully study our student success initiatives across the University and develop a national model based on the excellent efforts of faculty members at WVU and our partner institutions.”

HHMI cites “dynamic demographics” and “substantial disparities between students who arrive at college via different pathways” as the primary challenges facing science education. National and WVU data show that students who are first generation or of historically excluded ethnic and racial groups leave STEM programs at a disproportionately higher rate than other students.

“We know we need those diverse perspectives in the STEM fields and faculty members can have a profound impact on each student’s success,” said Gay Stewart, grant co-director and founding director of the WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education. “Through this IE3 initiative, we are hoping to identify and highlight ways in which we can best support timely graduation of STEM students entering WVU who have been underserved in mathematics.”

In March 2021, WVU accepted an invitation to join one of seven IE3 Learning Community Clusters, which includes Georgia State University, Drexel University and University of California, Irvine, among others.

Organized around one of three IE3 challenges in the pre-proposal stage, the LCCs have each worked together to design a collaborative infrastructure and set of experiments aimed at addressing their challenge. The grant funding, which runs through August 2028, clears the way for that work.

“WVU’s cluster, LCC5, is specifically addressing ways to foster, promote and evaluate inclusive teaching practices in STEM,” Stewart said. “Our cluster will work on a portfolio of projects that focus on understanding what high-quality inclusive teaching looks like, how to support it and how to reward it.”

The WVU team aims to support this work by gaining a deeper understanding of the University’s data, best practices and curriculum and identifying ways to enhance student success.

Along with Stewart, who serves on the LCC5 advisory board, the cross-functional team includes faculty and administrators from the Morgantown campus:

  • Lisa Castellino-Gergich, associate vice president for institutional data and analytics
  • Paul Kreider, vice provost and WVU IE3 project co-director
  • Lori Ogden, teaching associate professor and associate director of the Institute of Math Learning
  • Robynn Shannon, director of assessment support
  • John Stewart, professor, WVU IE3 research lead and LCC5 leadership team
  • Evan Widders, associate provost for undergraduate education

“Our goal is to make bold change at WVU,” Kreider said. “We’ll do that by digging into our own data, piloting new efforts and collaborating with our partner institutions.”

The HHMI Inclusive Excellence Initiative began in 2017 with a cohort of 24 universities and colleges and added a second cohort of 33 institutions in 2018. With the addition of the IE3 Learning Community Clusters, WVU is now part of a network of 161 schools nationwide receiving grant funding from HHMI.

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