Aspire Alliance adds 19 universities to STEM inclusion plan

The national initiative through the University of Wisconsin and the APLU aims to increase diversity and foster best practices for faculty and students
By: | November 2, 2020
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According to a National Science Foundation study done in 2019, only 9% of STEM professors at four-year universities were minorities. A collaborative effort led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) hopes to change that.

Nineteen public research universities have been chosen to take part in a program under Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty that aims to boost “recruiting, hiring and retention practices” that lead to more equitable outcomes. This new cohort joins two others that are seeking to advance diversity in higher education STEM programs.

The NSF is putting $10 million behind the five-year initiative called the Aspire Alliance, which seeks to boost minority representation in STEM faculty positions and also provide more opportunities to students pursuing careers in STEM fields, including women, those with disabilities and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Those students tend to achieve better when taught by diversity faculty, according to research provided by the Alliance.

“We face a critical shortfall of diversity in STEM fields nationally,” said Travis York, APLU’s Assistant Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs, who is also co-leader of the Institutional Change Network, which is providing those universities with support and resources for change. “The institutions participating are moving beyond statements into actions as they seek to enact inclusive organizational structures to increase diversity of their faculty and value the use of equity-minded practices by all faculty as we work to address a national challenge.”

The APLU and UW’s Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) will lead the new cohort that now includes:

  • Appalachian State University
  • California Polytechnic State University
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Jackson State University
  • Lehigh University
  • Louisiana Tech University
  • Mississippi State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Temple University
  • The Ohio State University
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • University of Denver
  • University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  • University of Maryland, College Park
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • Utah State University
  • Virginia Tech

“This new cohort expands 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,” said Tonya Peeples, Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion of the Penn State College of Engineering. “With new types of institutions joining the network, we’ll be learning together how to create and sustain lasting change for diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM across the higher education ecosystem. All of this will help ensure the success of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

STEM fields and offerings at higher education institutions continue to soar. A report from new member the University of Pittsburgh shows it has more than 4,000 faculty members among its seven schools and 76 departments dedicated to STEM alone.

Part of the Aspire Alliance’s mission is to allow underrepresented students a chance to get involved in STEM and then become leaders in those fields. But the main goal is to build up a base of better-represented and better-trained faculty to lead that charge.

To that end, those universities are first being asked to address their current practices as well as conduct a makeup of STEM faculty and staff. They will then structure a three-pronged plan to make change happen – by leading efforts to be more inclusive in instruction and advising, by recruiting and hiring a more diverse population and by embracing diversity and inclusion throughout programs on campus. They also will be collaborating in both regional and national focus groups that include other universities and outside agencies to ensure they are developing those plans.