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Published July 06, 2022
The University of Wyoming’s Science Initiative and the state’s community colleges will use a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence 3 grant (HHMI IE3) to promote inclusive excellence.
In 2019, Rachel Watson, UW’s Learning Actively Mentoring Program director, led a team effort to write a pre-proposal for the HHMI IE3. Finalists for the award -- which included UW and Wyoming community colleges -- were announced in 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice issues occurred almost simultaneously.
Watson says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education, revisited the granting process to make it more inclusive. Institutions selected earlier are now among the learning communities dedicated to three dimensions of inclusive excellence: meaningful evaluation of effective and inclusive teaching; content of the introductory science experience, which embodies inclusive learning; and effective partnerships between two- and four-year institutions that develop from existing relationships.
The Wyoming Inclusive Excellence team chose to focus on the third challenge and accepted membership in the national learning community composed of 15 fellow institutional teams from across the nation. Northwest College (NWC) is the first state community college to engage with UW in the inclusive excellence work, Watson says.
The Wyoming Inclusive Excellence team also received a small Phase 1 learning grant to gather information about inclusive excellence at UW and the state’s community colleges.
The grant supports Watson, along with Reshmi Singh, a UW School of Pharmacy associate professor, and Rosemary McBride, a UW College of Education doctoral student from Rawlins, to research institutional ethnography at each of Wyoming’s community colleges. Institutional ethnography is a qualitative research technique that involves collecting stories from individuals affected by inequitable institutions, Watson says.
UW and NWC educators recently met as a “learning community to achieve lasting inclusive excellence goals,” Watson says.
Representing UW were Annie Bergman, of the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program; Erin Bentley, a botany and Program in Ecology graduate student from Green River; and Christi Boggs, associate director of digital teaching and learning in the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning, and a faculty member in the School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice.
From NWC were Deepthi Amarasuriya, physics; Eric Atkinson, biological sciences; Tim Glatzer, mathematics; Kim Kost, Terri Meyer and Lindsay Shaw, all from the TRIO Program; Lisa Smith, institutional research manager; and Uko Udodong, chemistry.
The group discussed HHMI’s guiding questions: What are the root causes of the institutional barriers to inclusion? What creates and sustains those barriers? Why are those barriers so durable? The daylong retreat’s goal was to complete a fundamental design for a statewide program that will bring together scholars from all disciplines to support transdisciplinary inquiry.
“Nurturing transdisciplinary scholarship is perhaps the most powerful thing that we can do to support diversity, equity and inclusion goals within higher education across the state of Wyoming,” Watson says. “Transdisciplinarity gains its research power by inviting scholars of diverse backgrounds -- from math and science to agriculture and art -- and from all walks of life to come together to solve the world’s problems. It acknowledges that we will not make any progress on these problems if we do not have all diverse identities, disciplines and ideas around the table.”
Atkinson praises NWC’s “amazing diversity of students with an inordinate amount of talent and dreams.”
“We, as faculty and staff, have recognized that some students are not comfortable or able to take advantage of opportunities NWC provides, and we want to find ways to make sure our students feel that such success is within their realm of possibilities,” he says. “Transformation through transdisciplinary approaches can be an important avenue to prepare our students for transfer as well as moving into engagement in their communities, local and global. It’s really about the whole student.”
Phase 2 of the IE3 work is underway. Watson has been a member of the national learning community’s writing team.
“When the national learning community and HHMI leaders are satisfied with the structure and content of the proposal, the national learning community will receive more than $8 million in funds that will be distributed equitably among the 15 institutional teams to enable their continued inclusive excellence work,” Watson adds.
For more information, email Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org.