N.C. A&T Receives Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant for Inclusive Learning

By Jackie Torok / 12/08/2022 Academic Affairs

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Dec. 8, 2022) – North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is among 104 colleges and universities receiving grants through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative to continue their critical work in building capacity for inclusion of all students in science. 

The IE3 consortium grants, which total more than $60 million over six years, support teaching and learning practices centered in equity to improve the introductory undergraduate science experience. 

Of the nearly one million students who enter college annually intending to study science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), more than half will not complete a STEM bachelor’s degree, according to HHMI. Those who leave STEM are disproportionately students who are first in their family to attend college, students who begin at community colleges and students from historically minoritized ethnic and racial groups. 

N.C. A&T was awarded an IE3 learning grant in 2021.The university’s IE3 Core team implemented a student-centered approach to construct a context-focused framework for assessment and evaluation of inclusive teaching. In this Phase 2 grant, A&T will use findings from its student-centered activities to help shape awareness building and professional development priorities around effective and inclusive teaching.  

The team responsible for submitting A&T’s institutional proposal consists of Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Tonya Smith Jackson, Ph.D.; ADVANCE IT Project Director Sherrice Allen, Ph.D.; Center for Teaching Excellence Director Audrey Dentith, Ph.D.; Honors College Dean Margaret I. Kanipes, Ph.D.; Executive Diversity and Inclusion Officer Del Ruff; and associate biology professor and Pre-Professional Scholars Program Director C. Dinitra White, Ph.D. 

“As a minority female faculty member in STEM, I understand the importance of helping students develop a sense of belonging and ownership in scientific fields that are not always welcoming,” said White. “The HHMI Learning Grant provided an opportunity for our team to work with a dedicated group of students from four STEM departments – biology, chemistry, physics and psychology – to explore diversity, equity, and inclusive pedagogy in the science classroom. 

“Importantly, this unique project empowered the students to drive the conversation by conducting their own research into effective best practices, developing surveys to assess how students and STEM faculty at A&T experience diversity, equity, and inclusion in the STEM classroom and ultimately through sharing their findings with the community in an effort to effect positive change for their peers,” she said. “Their work has laid the foundation for activities proposed in phase 2 of the proposal.” 

A&T’s Phase 2 project will focus on integrating faculty development efforts around strategic goals of teaching excellence and inclusion; identifying valid constructs and instruments to assess and evaluate effective and inclusive teaching; and producing and disseminating knowledge of inclusive excellence manifested at a historically Black college or university (HBCU) through collaboration and sharing with other institutions. 

HHMI divided the 104 schools in the IE3 consortium into seven Learning Community Clusters (LCCs). A&T is in LCC4, a group of 16 institutions tasked with the “meaningful evaluation of effective and inclusive teaching, which will inform faculty practices, including promotion and tenure decisions.” 

LCC4 has articulated three specific projects to address its assigned challenge: 

  • Develop policy around inclusive and effective teaching and make it relevant for promotion and tenure. 
  • Identify and employ models, tools and approaches to work with instructors to advance their use of inclusive teaching practices. 
  • Develop tools and practices that make meaningful progress toward the robust use of holistic evidence to evaluate teaching.

“The opportunity to provide faculty and leadership with the space to discuss policy and assessments is an essential aspect of developing equity-minded practices and culturally relevant pedagogy at our institution,” said Ruff. 

The other LCC4 members are Bryn Mawr College, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia Southern University, Gettysburg College, Gustavus Adolphus College, Pennsylvania State University, Pomona College, Providence College, University of Georgia, University of La Verne, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oklahoma, University of Oregon, University of Portland and Whittier College. 

“What is unique in this initiative is that there is no lead institution; rather, we are all equal collaborators,” said Allen. “Our positionality as a diverse HBCU provides opportunities for discovery and innovation in this unique context.” 

The collaborative IE3 approach promises to be an important model for organizations interested in catalyzing institutional change with respect to diversity and inclusion. 

“IE3 places the responsibility of culture change on the community of experts – the students, faculty, staff and administrators of the participating colleges and universities,” said David Asai, HHMI senior director for science education. “I believe this collective accountability will encourage the sustainable change we need in science.” 

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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