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Diversity and inclusion through STEM

By | Lora Neshovska

Humboldt State University was one of 24 institutions nationwide to be selected for a $1 million STEM grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The grant is part of HHMI’s program, Inclusive Excellence, which is designed to cultivate inclusion and diversity within the STEM community.

By funding STEM programs throughout the nation, HHMI Inclusive Excellence strives to enable science education capacity in four-year institutions to provide opportunities for all students to succeed in the field.

At HSU, this means developing better ways to serve incoming STEM students.

Matt Johnson, Ph.D. and Wildlife professor said this includes development of student involvement programs, as well as faculty training.

Johnson, along with Biology professor Amy Sprowles founded an integrative, place-based learning community called “Klamath Connection.” The direct field experience is one of the two current STEM place-based learning communities.

Through these diverse programs, STEM students are integrated into the field through hands-on learning in the local environment.

“These feelings help students feel a sense of belonging and community.” Johnson said. “With an approximate 6 percent of HSU students coming from Humboldt County, it is important to introduce incoming students to their new geographical, environmental and cultural environment.”

Additionally, the grant will allow university faculty to participate in workshops and training opportunities to learn and utilize how to create a culturally inclusive environment.

David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI, says it is important to acknowledge that good ideas can originate anywhere. Asai said that often, a person’s success in science been a reflection of where they come from, not where they want to go, causing growing disparities in science education.

Underrepresented incoming STEM scholars have significantly lower retention rates than their Caucasian or Asian counterparts.

According to a 2015 report by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, the percentage of students who receive STEM bachelor’s degrees is nearly half of the students who initially enrolled in science higher education.

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Laura Carlos, a 22-year-old senior studying Zoology, said she did not feel prepared and included when she first started her science education at HSU. Carlos said that not all students are given the same opportunities in high school, which makes it difficult for students to have the same starting point in college.

“Without proper resources and tools, underrepresented students can only dream of what it’s actually like to be a STEM student.” Carlos said.

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