The National Science Foundation selected UT-Austin last week to join the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate project, which is aimed at increasing historically marginalized communities in STEM faculty.
The project expands upon the California Alliance’s Research Exchange Program, and it provides networking, career and research opportunities to underrepresented doctoral and postdoctoral STEM students nationally.
For the next three-and-a-half years, UT will collaborate with eight other research institutions — including Harvard University, Stanford University and the UC-Berkeley — to implement programs for its members.
“There is a decentralized model for how the nine institutions will each have their own part to take charge of,” said Marvin Hackert, associate dean of graduate studies. “For instance, the University of Texas is going to be taking the lead on teaching inclusive practices for hiring and hiring practices … so we’re going to be packaging that and promoting that at workshops and sharing that with other institutions.”
Tia Madkins, curriculum and instruction assistant professor, said students from underrepresented communities face an uphill climb in STEM fields.
“There is a macro-level issue at hand … where students of color are denied access to rigorous and culturally relevant K-12 STEM instruction, which contributes to systemic recruitment and retention issues in the STEM fields and academia,” Madkins said.
The project seeks to improve the pathway by offering cross-institutional mentorship, research exchange and new tools for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We know (underrepresented STEM students) have always wanted more access to teachers and mentors from their own backgrounds,” said Tatiane Russo-Tait, a Ph.D. candidate studying diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM education. “Student associations across the country, in STEM fields specifically, all sent letters out to their departments asking for more representation.”
Russo-Tait said the benefits of increasing faculty diversity include increased likelihood of student retention, greater understanding in sharing experiences and more comfort when asking for support.
“It signals to students they belong in the field,” Russo-Tait said. “That right now is not necessarily experienced by all students equally.”
Hackert said more information will be released in the coming months for doctoral and postdoctoral STEM students.
“There would be professional development opportunities, research exchange opportunities, all to help (underrepresented) students transition from student to graduate student to (postdoctoral) student to junior faculty, and be successful in that process,” Hackert said.