Utah State University has joined a cohort of 19 universities in a three-year institutional change effort to develop inclusive faculty recruitment, hiring and retention practices.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) co-leads the effort, known as Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty. The new cohort joins two earlier cohorts that are currently working together to advance such work, bringing the total number of institutions participating in the institutional change effort to 54. The National Science Foundation funds the effort as part of its INCLUDES initiative.
“This effort is essential in meeting our mission to cultivate diversity of thought and culture,” said USU President Noelle E. Cockett. “USU’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force has been working for a number of months to develop a strategic plan to address diversity and inclusion in both faculty and staff hiring. We are excited to be a part of the Aspire program.”
Aimed at ensuring all STEM faculty use inclusive teaching practices and that institutions increase the diversity of their STEM professoriate, participating universities begin their work with a self-assessment of current practices and assets. The institutions will then develop and implement campus action plans to drive change and scale such efforts across all their STEM programs.
Three of the 10 strategic priorities President Cockett has established are related to diversity, equity and inclusivity, including:
- Expand access to secondary education for underserved populations and communities across Utah.
- Increase diversity of students and faculty.
- Promote inclusiveness and respect across the USU community.
Maura Hagan, dean of USU’s College of Science, co-led the university’s effort to join the IChange Network in partnership with Associate Dean of the Quinney College of Natural Resources Claudia Radel.
“USU leaders value inclusivity and diversity and are committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty. USU leaders also aspire to empower all faculty to embrace inclusivity strategies in their teaching, research mentorship, and advising responsibilities. Providing instruction and mentorship by diverse faculty will naturally engage a more diverse student body,” said Hagan who, herself, was among the first women to matriculate through the scientist ranks at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, where the space physicist spent much of her career.
At USU, Hagan serves on one of four USU Diversity and Inclusion Task Force Working Groups in support of President Cockett’s initiative to foster a diverse and inclusive university system.
“As a society and a world community, we must rely on the talents of many in the face of formidable challenges,” says Hagan, who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2019. “With expert voices representing a diverse and inclusive spectrum of experiences and perspectives, we optimize our ability to meet these challenges.”
The Aspire Alliance, which APLU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison facilitate with the involvement of several universities, is engaging the new cohort of 19 universities through its Institutional Change (IChange) Network. The network provides universities with comprehensive support and resources for institutional change, including access to national partners in a concierge-style approach to technical assistance.
“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 IChange Network. “The institutions participating in the IChange Network 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 other institutions in the new cohort are: 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; and Virginia Tech.
Despite the centrality of diversity in learning and student success, efforts to increase underrepresented faculty have not been as successful as intended, particularly in STEM. A 2019 NSF analysis revealed that underrepresented minority faculty occupied a mere 9 percent of professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Other research shows when underrepresented students are taught by diverse faculty members they achieve at significantly higher rates; as much as 20 to 50 percent of the course achievement gaps between minority and majority students are eliminated.