WMU joins national alliance aimed at developing more inclusive and diverse STEM faculty

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is one of 20 universities joining a three-year institutional change effort to develop inclusive faculty recruitment, hiring and retention practices. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities—APLU—co-leads the effort, known as Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty. The new cohort joins an inaugural set of 15 institutions that began working together to advance such work earlier this year. The National Science Foundation funds the effort as part of its INCLUDES initiative.

A professor holds an aluminum pipe next to an experiment meant to measure the force of an impact to a football helmet.

Dr. Massood Atashbar, professor of electrical and computer engineering, does a demonstration in his lab.

Aimed at ensuring all STEM faculty use inclusive teaching practices and that institutions increase the diversity of their STEM professoriate, participating universities begin their work with a self-assessment of current practices and assets. The institutions will then develop and implement campus action plans to drive change and scale such efforts across all their STEM programs.

"We have to give our students role models that represent their interests and backgrounds for them to aspire to be part of these fields going forward," says Dr. Jennifer Bott, provost and vice president for academic affairs at WMU. "We know seeing someone who represents your values, who represents your experiences is incredibly important in motivating you to achieve."

The Aspire Alliance, which APLU and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning—CIRTL—based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison facilitate with the involvement of several universities, is engaging the new cohort of 20 universities through its Institutional Change—IChange—Network. The network provides universities with comprehensive support and resources for institutional change, including access to national partners in a concierge-style approach to technical assistance.

“Recruiting, hiring and retaining more inclusive and diverse STEM faculty on our campuses is essential for the increased success of all STEM students, the increased quality and production of our scientists, and public universities’ ability to achieve their mission to improve lives,” said Travis York, APLU’s assistant vice president, academic and student affairs, who is also co-leader of the IChange Network. “Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion within a project aimed at catalyzing large-scale innovation and change is extremely difficult – which is why we’re thrilled to announce a new cohort of institutions committed to working collaboratively to do exactly that on their campuses.”

Diversifying STEM

An instructor points to physics equations on a chalkboard.

Graduate teaching assistant Rasanjali Jayathissa instructs a physics class.

This is one of two new efforts WMU is involved with focusing on diversifying STEM faculty. The University is also collaborating with three other research institutions to develop strategies to increase the number of female STEM faculty across the country. The work—made possible by a three-year, nearly $1 million NSF ADVANCE grant—focuses on challenges facing women of color and women with family responsibilities.

“We are excited to have these 20 impressive universities expand the IChange Network and bring their deep commitment to transforming STEM education,” says Tonya Peeples, associate dean for equity and inclusion of the Penn State College of Engineering and co-leader of the Alliance’s IChange Network. “Learning from and alongside our exceptional first cohort, this second cohort will grow our potential to identify and share the most promising innovative practices towards diversifying the STEM professoriate and ensure their teaching, advising, and mentoring is inclusive. All of this will help ensure the success of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.” 

Despite the centrality of diversity in learning and student success, efforts to increase underrepresented faculty have not been as successful as intended, particularly in STEM. A 2019 NSF analysis revealed that underrepresented minority faculty occupied a mere 9% of professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Other research shows when underrepresented students are taught by diverse faculty members they achieve at significantly higher rates; as much as 20 to 50% of the course achievement gaps between minority and majority students are eliminated.

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. With a membership of 241 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliated organizations, APLU's agenda is built on the three pillars of increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement. Annually, member campuses enroll 4.9 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.3 million degrees, employ 1.3 million faculty and staff, and conduct $44.9 billion in university-based research.

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WMU among recipients of nearly $1M NSF grant to boost women in STEM fields | August 30, 2019