Northeastern Professors Receive $1M HHMI Grant for Inclusive Excellence Initiative

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded a Northeastern University’s College of Science faculty members $1 million to create programming focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives for the natural science fields in higher education.

Chemistry professor Mary Jo Ondrechen and Biology professor Wendy Smith will lead the project at Northeastern that will focus on training faculty on inclusive teaching and mentoring skills to include non-traditional students in the process of scientific discovery. “Minority and first-generation students are underrepresented in our science majors and we need to do a better job of including the whole talent pool,” said Ondrechen. “Improvements in curricula and in teaching and mentoring practices will create a better learning experience for all students.”

Ondrechen and Smith’s initiative, Northeastern University Skills and Capacity for Inclusion (NU-SCI), will aim to increase interest and success in the sciences for underrepresented minorities and first generation college students, using Northeastern’s renowned experiential learning approach as an educational foundation to the program. The project will hold workshops to further faculty education, adjust course design and content to create a more inclusive environment, develop strategies for more effective instruction and mentoring of nontraditional students, and offer programs that welcome, engage, and foster the success of nontraditional students. “There are unintentional barriers between the science programs and non-traditional students,” said Ondrechen. “This project aims to take down those barriers.”

“We’ll be developing programs that enhance students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy in science,” said Smith. “We look forward to working creatively and collaboratively within the College of Science, but also with other programs such as Foundation Year, to accomplish these goals.”

Northeastern joins 23 other institutions across the country who were invited to the first round of HHMI’s 2017 Inclusive Excellence Initiative—a program aimed at helping increase capacity of colleges and universities to effectively engage all students so they can be successful in science, especially undergraduates who enter four your institutions through nontraditional pathways. “We’re thinking differently about how HHMI can help move science education forward,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

In a significant move for HHMI, the focus of the new initiative has shifted the locus of responsibility onto the schools—improving the structure of the curriculum and the way it’s delivered. “Too many times we approach diversity with a deficit mindset in which interventions are aimed at fixing the students,” said David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI. Instead, the new initiative focuses on the important work of making the culture of the institution more inclusive. “We want to change the way schools do business,” Asai said.

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“We are committed to making science accessible to all,” said Kenneth Henderson, Dean of the College of Science at Northeastern University. “True discovery and innovation happen when we have diverse backgrounds and experiences exploring science. This award is a true testament to the commitment Dr. Ondrechen, Dr. Smith, and the College of Science are making toward creating a more diverse and inclusive scientific community here on campus and beyond.”

College of Science