Bates College has won a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to transform its STEM culture to fully support all students in the sciences throughout their undergraduate years.

With the grant, Bates joins 33 colleges and universities selected in 2018 to join the HHMI Inclusive Excellence initiative, which aims to catalyze national efforts to broaden participation of students from all backgrounds in the study of science.

At Bates, the HHMI grant will fund strategies aimed at:

  • Transforming the ways that faculty approach their work with students;
  • Expanding existing programs for student mentoring and leadership;
  • Redefining the first-year science curriculum to introduce research experiences.

“A commitment to access and equity runs deep in our history and mission,” said President Clayton Spencer. “A Bates offer of admission has always stood as a vote of confidence in a student’s talent and potential to make important contributions to our world. This grant will deepen our capacity and speed our progress toward making good on this promise for all students interested in science.”

HHMI is the largest private supporter of academic biomedical research in the U.S., and its funding initiatives and grant choices are considered definitive statements of an institution’s potential for transformative impact.

“What HHMI understands, and what Bates embraces, is that science can only be excellent when its culture supports all students for success.”

In accepting the grant, Bates becomes part of a national network of colleges and universities committed to making STEM education more inclusive and equitable — especially for students who arrive via nontraditional pathways, including underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation students, and working adults with families.

The 33 colleges and universities selected by HHMI in 2018 for the Inclusive Excellence initiative join 24 schools selected in 2017.

“What HHMI understands, and what Bates embraces, is that science can only be excellent when its culture supports all students for success,” said Professor of Psychology Kathryn Graff Low, who oversaw the grant process as interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty during the 2017–18 academic year.

STEM culture change

The HHMI grant gives the college’s STEM faculty what it seeks: funding to expand its capacity to effect culture change, said Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Paula Schlax, the principal investigator of the grant.

“My colleagues are interested in and motivated to create an inclusive culture and to support students in ways that traditional science curricula do not,” she said. “We are confident that our strategies, particularly our efforts to design experiences that create a sense of science identity and belonging, will ultimately lead to improved student success in STEM fields.”

The HHMI grant is the third major acknowledgment in as many years of Bates’ leadership in the national effort to achieve greater inclusivity and equity in higher education. The grant also supports the major Bates Campaign goal to transform the teaching and learning of science at Bates, including the creation of an integrated system of science facilities.

Expanded Science Fellows program

In addition to supporting new teaching and learning strategies, the HHMI grant will allow Bates to expand and strengthen its Science Fellows program, currently a first-year-only mentoring program for 12 STEM-interested students, especially first-generation and URM students and students from under-resourced high schools.

The program will double in size, to 24 fellows each year, and fellows will remain active all four years, with expanded opportunities for STEM leadership and learning. Ultimately, this 60-student cohort of experienced STEM leaders and mentors will “help all our STEM students strengthen their sense of belonging and confidence to succeed,” Schlax said.

Research in a student’s first year

The grant will also fund innovative opportunities for students to do scientific research as soon as they get to Bates. Known as First Year Research Seminars, the new offerings will provide “research opportunities in the intimate setting of a seminar that maximize opportunities for developing relationships with faculty and fellow students,” Schlax said.

“They will begin to see themselves as scientists.”

Student research is “one of the most important aspects of our curricula,” Schlax said. “It measurably benefits any student.” Yet in higher education, “it is unusual for a first-year student to participate in ‘authentic’ research,” in which a student investigates a compelling research question alongside a professor.

The new seminars will help “build students’ scientific knowledge and toolkits plus their science efficacy, identity, and belonging. They will begin to see themselves as scientists.”