Tufts University professors awarded $1 million grant to boost diversity in natural sciences

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (June 7, 2017) — A group of faculty at Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences has received a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to broaden participation and cultivate the talents of undergraduate students of diverse backgrounds in the natural sciences.

The five-year initiative will provide science faculty and teaching assistants in introductory science courses with support to enhance their ability to elicit, recognize, interpret, and respond meaningfully to all students’ thinking and reasoning regardless of their cultural background or prior preparation. It will be led by Roger Tobin, professor of physics; David Hammer, professor of education and physics; Juliet Fuhrman, professor of immunology and infectious disease; Susan Koegel, senior lecturer of cell biology and immunology; and Donna Qualters, director of the university’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.

Known as the Listening Project, the program aims to increase instructors’ awareness of implicit and unconscious bias and support their efforts to elicit and cultivate the productive beginnings of scientific thought in  all students.

HHMI is the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States. The grant is part of HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence initiative, an effort  that seeks to increase the capacity of colleges and universities to effectively engage students – particularly under-represented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students and working adults with families – so they can be successful in science. Tufts is one of 24 universities selected in the first round of  grant awards.

 “Achieving inclusive excellence in the science community is a crucial goal for expanding innovation and discovery within our fields,” said Tobin. “Our program  will involve instructors at all levels – faculty, graduate student teaching assistants, and undergraduate peer tutors and study group leaders – with the goal that  students in our courses will experience a unified approach and set of expectations about what it means to be a student of science.”

Tobin said that by shifting the emphasis from retaining and repeating memorized information to explaining ideas and supporting them with evidence, the program aims to build students’ analytical skills and make science majors and science careers more accessible to students from diverse educational and cultural backgrounds.

David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI, said the organization is working to improve the structure of the natural science curriculum nationally and the way it is delivered by, for example, adjusting policies and procedures, training faculty, and improving climate and culture in schools nationwide.

“Too many times we approach diversity with a deficit mindset in which interventions are aimed at fixing the students,” said Asai. Instead, the new initiative focuses on the important work of making the culture of the institution more inclusive, he said.  “We want to change the way schools do business.”

According to HHMI, a person’s success in science in the United States too often reflects their origin rather than their desired career path. Students who arrive in four-year degree programs directly from high school and students whose parents went to college are far more likely to persist in earning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees than students who enter college from less traditional pathways. Also, students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups leave STEM at significantly greater rates than whites and Asians even when they come to college with similar preparation.

Finding a way to include all students, from all backgrounds, in STEM is critical for building future generations of American scientists, Asai said. “Science excellence depends on having a community of scientists that is rich in diversity of people and perspectives,” he said.


About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.





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