UCSC joins multi-institutional effort to advance equity and inclusion in science

UC Santa Cruz has a long history of innovative approaches to undergraduate education, and in recent years there has been a focus on addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences.

In a new initiative funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), UCSC is working on these topics in collaboration with other institutions as part of the HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) Learning Community.

“UCSC is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in the sciences, and HHMI has supported our efforts in this area for many years,” said UCSC Chancellor Cindy Larive. “We have an excellent team of science educators leading this new effort, and I look forward to their collaboration with other institutions on these issues. Involving people from different backgrounds is important to address inequalities and increase the scientifically educated workforce. It is also crucial because it leads to better science.”

The initiative focuses on the introductory science curriculum because much of the loss of diversity in science occurs during this critical phase of a student’s college experience.

“A significant proportion of students who enter college with a genuine interest in science fail to progress to a science degree, and students who drop out of science majors disproportionately come from groups that are underrepresented in STEM subjects . said Grant Hartzog, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology (MCD) and a member of UCSC’s IE3 leadership team.

cooperative approach

Deviating from the traditional awarding of scholarships, the HHMI takes a collaborative approach for this new initiative for inclusive excellence. Each of the 104 participating schools received a small grant to support on-campus efforts, and the institutions also work together in seven learning community clusters.

UC Santa Cruz is one of 15 institutions in Cluster 1, which focuses on making introductory STEM curriculum content more inclusive. The group met to exchange ideas and develop a proposal for projects to be funded through additional grants from HHMI.

“It’s an opportunity to share experiences and evaluate our efforts as part of a cohort of universities with shared values ​​and goals,” Hartzog said.

At UCSC, the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) is using HHMI’s initial $30,000 to develop an introductory field course for biology students.

“We know that the earlier we involve students in labs and fieldwork, the better they do,” Hartzog said. “The traditional approach to biology education is two years of introductory lectures before they can do the things that really interest them.”

EEB Professor Erika Zavaleta is coordinating the development of the one-fourth field course to be offered in conjunction with the lecture-based core biology course in Ecology and Evolution. “We want students to go into the field and have that be part of their experience from the start,” she said. “They have the opportunity to work together in small groups on real research and to build a sense of community among themselves and with their lecturers.”

Zavaleta said previous studies, such as a 2020 publication by her group, have shown the value of field courses in increasing the retention and success of underrepresented students in science majors.

“UC Santa Cruz has strong roots in hands-on integrative learning within a community — that’s where the campus started — and I feel like it’s coming full circle, except that we’re now a Hispanic Serving Institution and nearly half our Students are the first generation,” she said. “It means going back to that high quality, experiential approach and paying even more attention to serving students with diverse experiences and perspectives. That’s what’s really exciting.”

active learning

Hartzog said that UCSC’s biology departments (EEB and MCD Biology) have been working for several years in partnership with the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL) to revamp their introductory biology courses and develop active learning versions of the major courses. Active learning, in which students are encouraged to “learn by doing” in various ways, rather than passively listening to lectures, is a proven method to enhance student learning and retention in science.

Robin Dunkin, assistant professor at EEB and assistant faculty director at CITL, said she sees the next phase as building on lessons learned from the redesign of introductory biology and chemistry courses.

“After several iterations of redesign from class to class, this is an opportunity to think broadly and holistically about our induction curriculum as a whole,” Dunkin said. “We want to reflect on what this whole first-year experience is like, try to make the transition through the curriculum smoother, and help students see themselves as scientists and feel a sense of belonging here at the university and in the discipline. “

Ultimately, the goal is to improve graduation rates, graduate and professional school admissions, and other metrics for science students, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups.

“UCSC is really ahead of the game — other universities are starting to do things that we’ve been doing for a while,” Hartzog said. “The superpower of our campus is CITL and the work of Robin Dunkin and CITL Director Jody Greene. It gives me a good feeling for UCSC and the amount of groundwork we’ve already done.”

HHMI has helped fund many of these efforts, including the Active Learning Initiative in the Department of Physical and Biological Sciences. Several biology schools have received support for science education programs through the HHMI Professors Program, including Zavaleta, MCD Biology Professor Manuel Ares, and EEB Professor Beth Shapiro.

UCSC’s IE3 leadership team includes Hartzog, Zavaleta and Dunkin, as well as Susanna Honig, director of the Academic Excellence (ACE) program; Gage Dayton, director of UCSC Natural Reserves; Jeremy Lee, Professor of MCD Biology; and Roxanne Beltran, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.