UTRGV receives $1 million to promote STEM inclusiveness

By J. Edward Moreno

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 7, 2017 – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is one of only 24 institutions in the nation to receive $1 million in the first round of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative (IEI). 

UTRGV was selected from among more than 500 institutions that applied for the grant. Specifically, the university plans to use the money to support instructional assistants and peer mentors, who will provide bilingual support, tutoring and life coaching to create a nurturing, inclusive learning environment.

Dr. Justin Moore, associate professor and interim chair of the UTRGV Department of Chemistry, says that, in addition to hiring instructional assistants and peer mentors, the department also will redesign courses to be hybrids – a combination of online and traditional classroom settings – with bilingual resources, making them more manageable for students.

“We hope that this will allow us to recruit and retain more students into STEM, especially those who are currently underrepresented.” Moore said. “As of now, the program will benefit biomedical students, but hopefully will expand into general science students, as well.”

The initiative’s broad objectives are to help colleges and universities encourage students from underrepresented communities to pursue study in fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and to cultivate the talent of students in the natural sciences, according to the Institute.

The grant is designed to promote science inclusiveness on an institutional level by giving each awarded university the resources to combat its own unique issues with STEM success and inclusiveness, said David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI.

“Too many times, we approach diversity with a deficit mindset, in which interventions are aimed at ‘fixing’ the students,” Asai said. “Our goal is to catalyze changes that last well beyond the lifetime of these five-year grants. We want to change the way schools do business.”

According to data cited by HHMI, underrepresented racial groups leave STEM at much higher rates than whites and Asians, despite similar college preparation. Even as demographics change, disparities in the science field continue to grow.

HHMI’s initiative encouraged schools to find new ways to include all students in opportunities to achieve science excellence.  In particular, the program focuses on those undergraduates who come to college from diverse backgrounds and pathways.

“The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea.

Other universities selected for the grant are:

    Chaminade University of Honolulu.
    Delaware State University.
    Humboldt State University.
    Kenyon College.
    Lawrence Technological University.
    Northeastern University.
    Oberlin College.
    Radford University.
    Rochester Institute of Technology.
    San Francisco State University.
    Stony Brook University.
    Towson University.
    Trinity Washington University.
    Tufts University.
    University of California Davis.
    University of Colorado Denver.
    University of Northern Colorado.
    University of South Dakota.
    University of Utah.
    Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
    Washington University in St. Louis.
    Western Washington University.


J. Edward Moreno
UTRGV Student Writer / 956-665-3639

Marci Caltabiano-Ponce
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742