Whittier College Receives HHMI Inclusive Excellence Initiative Grant

December 16, 2022

Prof. Christina Bauer and students in the labWhittier College is among 104 colleges and universities receiving a six-year grant through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative to support institutional capacity building for student inclusion, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are core values at Whittier College. This program gives us the opportunity to work with schools across the country to help establish best practices for inclusion of all students in the sciences,” said President Linda Oubré. “Whittier is proud to be part of this important initiative sponsored by HHMI. I am very grateful to HHMI for prioritizing DEI in the sciences and for their commitment, as a funding partner, to open communication and inclusiveness during the granting process."
As part of the initiative, Whittier is part of a 16-school Learning Community Cluster that received a $9.2 million grant from HHMI. Whittier will receive approximately $493,000 over the next six years.
“Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a scientific culture that is centered on equity,” said Blanton Tolbert, HHMI’s vice president of science leadership and culture. “In science education, increasing the number of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds must go hand in hand with creating inclusive learning environments in which everyone can thrive.”
The HHMI announcement notes that to ensure far-reaching change, HHMI awarded funding to groups of institutions to address three unique challenges. Each of the Learning Community Clusters would address one of the following challenges: (1) How can we make the content of the introductory science experience more inclusive? (2) How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure? (3) How can we create genuine partnerships between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities so that transfer students have a more inclusive experience?

Whittier College, along with 16 partner institutions, is tackling the issue of how to best evaluate effective inclusive teaching practices. 

“A significant portion of funds will be utilized for faculty development, training, adjusting courses, and analyzing inclusive teaching in our courses,” said project lead Associate Professor of Environmental Science Christina Bauer. “The big message from HHMIthey are interested in learning from our journey more than receiving a ‘final product’. They would like us to become experts in the field of inclusive excellence and teach others what we learn. They want this to stick.”

According to Bauer, while previous attempts to foster inclusion in undergraduate STEM education have made important gains, such efforts remain stymied by deeply entrenched exclusionary norms and implementation is typically both voluntary and not properly evaluated.  

“LCC4 proposes to leverage the collective experience, resources, and effort of our 16 institutions to develop and disseminate policies, modes of instructor development, and sources of evidence that will allow institutions of higher learning to incentivize, foster, and evaluate inclusive teaching, disrupt exclusionary norms, and more closely approach inclusive excellence,” added Bauer. 

Whittier has previously piloted work regarding peer instructor evaluation in non-STEM fields.  

“We will leverage Whittier College’s small size and diverse student body to gain a deeper understanding as to what inclusive excellence means with meaningful and tailored evaluation methods,” she said. 

HHMI is a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance basic biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity.