Thanks HSI STEM Hub for the invitation to present in approximately 250 words how to increase diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in STEM. My response is one that most educators have been successfully implementing throughout their careers with significant impacts.
To promote student success in STEM requires a wide range of effort, support, and resources from individuals and institutions across all sectors. Proper policies, current curricula, research opportunities, community partnerships, and much more is required, in addition to the capacity to secure funding from public and private sources, including foundations, industry, and government.
More importantly, increasing the success of STEM students particularly from underrepresented communities requires something more basic which money can’t buy and few institutions can provide – i.e., a personal commitment and an organizational culture (found at many HSIs and HBCUs) to contribute to the growth and development of talented students, precisely because of their differences.
Achieving D&I requires recognizing, respecting, and valuing differences. To do this requires increasing awareness and knowledge of self and others in order to establish, nurture, and maintain positive personal relationships and organizational cultures. This individual approach is one that in the field of D&I is referred to as “use of self.”
Educators already know that use of self is frequently required to effectively increase student success. Similarly, industry and government are increasingly recognizing that one of the most effective and enduring ways to increase D&I in workplace is through structured mentoring programs that couple organizational leaders with underrepresented staff.
Therefore, my simplistic response of how to increase D&I in STEM is to enable educators to continue engaging themselves and diverse students in learning. Through effective use of self, students and educators have and will continue to increase D&I in STEM. Pa’lante. Ya pronto llegamos.
*Dedicated to my school and university professors and administrators, especially Dr. Merle Alexander from Baylor, who recognized and nurtured my talents and those of other diverse students.
Photo of Edward Algie Stoker Mendieta. A strong advocate for inclusion of Hispanics and other people of color in all endeavors, Mr. Stoker has raised close to $100 million dollars primarily for multicultural projects he has directed, some of which have received commendations from the Vatican, White House, Congress, and community-based organizations. He possesses a B.S. in Agronomy from Texas A&M; a M.S. in Environmental Studies from Baylor; and an executive certificate in Strategic Diversity and Inclusion from Georgetown.
Becoming successful at getting grants funded is like building a house. First, you need to build a foundation, then you frame out the rooms, and then you put on the roof. Successful grant proposals are built on the foundation of a successful research program. That means that the principal investigator (PI) needs to have expertise in the area (documented by at least a couple of publications). For most research grant mechanisms reviewers will also expect to see some preliminary data supporting the hypothesis and experimental approach. If the PI does not have this foundation, a proposal is not likely to get funded no matter how well it is written.
The second part of your grant proposal house is having a good research plan. The project needs to investigate important scientific questions and address a gap in knowledge that is holding back advancement in that area of science. You need to develop interesting hypotheses and a strong experimental plan that fits your repertoire of techniques. At small institutions the techniques and methodologies that are available are limited. You need to design your hypotheses so that the techniques you have provide strong experimental approaches to test them. You also need to design your experiments so that the results will distinguish between different hypotheses. Propose experiments in which one of the possible results is incompatible with your hypothesis, while getting the opposite result is incompatible with the alternative hypothesis. Designing this kind of definitive experiment is not easy and requires a lot of time and thought, but it is one of the secrets to a successful research grant proposal.
The roof of your grant house is the proposal itself. While a beautiful proposal usually won’t get bad science funded, a confusingly written, poorly-designed grant proposal will keep good science from getting funded. When you are writing a grant proposal, your audience is the reviewers – usually only three people. Your proposal has to appeal to them. It is very important that you talk to the program officer at the agency. Program officers know what their reviewers will like. Email the officer a one-page summary of your proposal and ask for a time when you can call them to discuss it. When you have the program officer on the phone ask them: Does our project sound like a good fit for your program? Do you see anything problematic? Can you suggest anything to make it more competitive? What are common mistakes that PIs make that reduce the competitiveness of their proposal?
To appeal to reviewers your proposal must present your science clearly and attractively. Use all of the space that you are allowed to describe your plan, but design your documents carefully so that they are attractive and easy to read. Include a mix of figures and text – newspapers make a good model. Make sure that your figures can be understood at a glance. Reviewers will not like it if they have to pore over your figures and legends in order to understand them. Make everything as simple and clear as possible. If reviewers have to struggle to understand your proposal they will not like it.
Start early. Give yourself plenty of time to develop your research plan and write your proposal. If your proposal is rejected, keep trying. Strengthening your foundation with preliminary data or another publication, incorporating the feedback from reviewers, and refining your presentation will make your resubmission much stronger.
Photo of Melissa A Harrington, PhD. Assoc. VP for Research; Director, Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research; Director, Delaware Institute for Science and Technology.
Melissa Harrington received a bachelor’s degree, with honors, in molecular biology from Purdue University and a PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford University. She began her faculty career at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and was there for four years before relocating to Delaware to join the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences at Delaware State University. At DSU she moved up through the faculty ranks and became Director of Biomedical Research and then Associate Vice President for Research. In these roles she wrote grants that brought over $42 million in federal funds to her institution.
Dr. Harrington is also the director of the NIH-funded Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research, an NIH-funded, virtual center linking neuroscientists at Delaware State University and the University of Delaware. Her research program in neurophysiology has been continuously funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense since 1998.
Resource for Hispanic Serving Institutions that promotes collaborations for STEM research education, develops research capacity, and enhances STEM pedagogy.
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This website is supported by the National Science Foundation under Awards 1832338 and 1832345.