STEM inclusion at Western gets a $3 million boost

Zoe Fraley

A $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation will put equity and inclusion into action—and the classroom—for Western’s programs in science, technology, engineering and math.

The NSF grant will fund the Building Educational Theory Through Enacting Reforms in STEM (BETTER in STEM) study, which will take place over the next five years to embed inclusive, research-based instructional strategies into undergraduate STEM courses and departments.

“The goal is, ultimately, to benefit our students in STEM fields and especially our first-generation, minoritized students in STEM because a lot of the research has shown that equitable, inclusive, student-centered strategies benefit those students the most,” says Dan Hanley, director of STEM Education Research and Evaluation for Western’s Science, Math and Technology Education department, and a project leader on the grant.

“It’s really imperative at Western that we have STEM graduates that mirror our populations in our region and the US,” Hanley says.

Higher education is often one of the pinch points in the pipeline to STEM careers, where people can find themselves excluded, says Science, Math and Technology Education Director Emily Borda. Changing that starts with changing mindsets, focusing on what students bring to the classroom rather than on areas where they may be lacking, and building a more welcoming environment that helps to build a sense of belonging in STEM.

“I’d argue a big part of this is transforming ourselves so that students don’t have to change their identities to see themselves in STEM,” Borda says. “We need to step back and think about how we approach science education in a much more aggressively inclusive way so we can get beyond the implicit biases we all have and start to really think about what it looks like to be truly inclusive.”

Zoe Fraley is Western's social media coordinator.

Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash