Kenyon was selected as one of 24 schools nationwide to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence initiative, aimed at helping colleges and universities recruit and advance students in the natural sciences. The HHMI initiative focuses on helping schools break down institutional barriers to inclusion of students underrepresented in science education, such as first-generation students and students from racial and ethnic minorities. Schools selected to participate in the initiative receive a $1 million grant, supplied over a five-year period, to implement a plan to engage more students in science.

“As a liberal arts institution, Kenyon is uniquely positioned to provide its students with an innovative science education,” said President Sean Decatur, who also is a biophysical chemist. “A hallmark of that education is a learning environment supportive of all students that reduces barriers to success. The opportunities for faculty mentorship, early on and substantively rich, are great at Kenyon. That kind of faculty engagement is key to both student success and a top-flight education in the sciences.”

“We’re thinking differently about how HHMI can help move science education forward,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea in a statement. “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

As part of Kenyon’s involvement in the initiative, faculty will examine ways to change pedagogical practices to boost inclusion. A new training program for faculty members will engage participants in a learning community and teach them effective strategies for overcoming obstacles to success faced by students underrepresented in the sciences. Action groups composed of faculty stakeholders will consider structural barriers to inclusion and work to reduce their impact. One such action group would examine current faculty evaluation and promotion criteria, considering how changes could encourage more effective teaching and mentoring as well as participation in inclusion and innovation efforts.

“For many years, Kenyon has explored ways to increase inclusion in the sciences through high-impact educational practices and strengthening our student support network,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry John Hofferberth, who led the effort to conceive the HHMI proposal. “The HHMI Inclusive Excellence competition challenges colleges and universities to take what they know about increasing inclusion and implement projects that leverage HHMI funding to make such practices pervasive.” This initiative builds on Kenyon’s ongoing efforts to help minority and first-generation students persist and succeed in STEM disciplines.

In 2016, Kenyon was awarded a $176,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to help foster research careers among women in the sciences. Also in 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Kenyon a grant of nearly $1 million to study how high-impact practices such as internships and research with faculty can help STEM students achieve career success. The grant continued the work of a previous NSF award, which gave 24 science-interested students, most of whom came from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, access to partial scholarships and programs designed to promote success in their STEM fields. Twenty-one of those students graduated from Kenyon with a STEM major — a rate higher than that of other demographically similar Kenyon students who pursued STEM majors over the same time period.

This is the first year HHMI has opened its Inclusive Excellence competition to all colleges and universities, not just research institutions. Kenyon was selected from a pool of more than 500 applicants and is one of two liberal arts colleges to be awarded the grant.

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