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Inclusive Excellence Grant to UW From Howard Hughes Medical Institute Supports Community College Relationships

December 14, 2022

The University of Wyoming is the recipient of a six-year grant as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative that will support continued collaborative relationship-building projects between Wyoming community colleges and UW.

The grant will be used among UW, Northwest College, Eastern Wyoming College, Western Wyoming Community College, Laramie County Community College and Casper College to develop learning communities dedicated to “building capacity” to better include minoritized and historically marginalized students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

UW is among 104 colleges and universities nationwide that will receive grants through HHMI’s IE3 initiative to continue critical work to build capacity for inclusion of all students in science.

“The grant is awarded to the entire national learning community, members of which worked collaboratively throughout the spring and summer to co-write the proposal,” says Rachel Watson, UW’s Science Initiative Learning Actively Mentoring Program (LAMP) director, who leads the Wyoming inclusive excellence program.

The grant totals more than $8 million over the six-year grant period, with nearly $1 million of the award managed by UW. This award will be allocated to two separate endeavors: It will enable the Wyoming inclusive excellence learning community work; and it will be used to allow the entire national learning community to continue learning, relationship-building and generating a greater understanding of inclusive excellence together.

The work of the Wyoming inclusive excellence team began in 2019, with focus groups to select one of three inclusive excellence challenges offered by HHMI: Making the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive; evaluating effective inclusive teaching and using the evaluation in the rewards system, including faculty tenure and promotion; and creating genuine partnerships between two- and four-year colleges. The choice to focus on the third challenge was motivated by the emphasis on relationship-building, Watson says.

“After submitting a pre-proposal, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing tides of social reckoning changed the landscape of our nation,” Watson says. “The HHMI Science Education team then turned a lens inward to interrogate the inherent exclusivity of the granting process. They chose to invite all institutional teams writing successful pre-proposals to join learning communities centered on their chosen challenge.”

UW became one of 15 institutional teams in the two-year/four-year partnership learning community. Watson is on the national team focused on facilitating community-building dialogue. Along with this work, UW was awarded a small learning grant that was used to complete an institutional ethnography at each of the five partnering Wyoming community colleges.

The institutional ethnography work has been spearheaded by qualitative research expert Reshmi Singh, a UW School of Pharmacy associate professor, and Rosemary McBride, a UW College of Education doctoral student from Rawlins. The study has been accepted for submission to the Thresholds in Education journal and was presented by McBride at the Council for the Study of Community Colleges Conference in Tempe, Ariz., this past spring.

“During the spring semester, using what we have learned from the NWC/UW learning community pilot program, we will launch at least one additional learning community with one of our other community college partners,” Watson says. “These learning communities will be implemented, facilitated and assessed based upon best practices. We predict that these learning communities will enhance social networks, decrease feelings of isolation and decrease implicit bias.”

Also, during the first phase of the team’s work, the group piloted the formation of a learning community composed of NWC and UW educators. The educators are trained in inclusive pedagogy and inclusive research techniques, such as transdisciplinary research. They are in the process of planning a spring semester “Learner Showcase” at NWC that will feature diverse works of research and creative activity, and inviting participants for dialogue sessions focused on inclusion in research.

For more information, email Watson at

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