U-M Leads 10-University Project to Tackle Equity, Inclusion in STEM

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fields. Some students—women, for example—were not moving forward in these areas of study at the same rate as their male peers after completing introductory classes. While women have made gains in some fields, they remain significantly underrepresented in the physical sciences, engineering, and computer science, making up only 28 percent of the national STEM workforce, according to National Science Foundation statistics.

McKay says concerns about equity and inclusion in STEM education go beyond gender to race, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, and politics. For example, African Americans and Hispanics hold only 9 percent and 7 percent of STEM career positions, respectively.

These statistics have inspired each of the SEISMIC institutions to experiment at various times with ways of ensuring that all students succeed, McKay says. One example, tested with chemistry students at UC Irvine, provides online instructional support for students who think they need it. He points to solutions like this as being flexible and relatively inexpensive to implement at scale.

U-M has also created a personalized communication tool designed to increase equity called ECoach. McKay says it takes data about each student’s background, interests, and goals to create customized feedback, encouragement, and advice. Some of that advice includes how to study, when and where to seek help, how to respond to bad test scores, and how to see struggle as a desirable difficulty on the road to success. It is now used by more than 5,000 students each term at U-M and UC Santa Barbara. ECoach is expected to become a part of SEISMIC’s portfolio of tools, he adds.

“All SEISMIC institutions will allow researchers to access, analyze, and share results,” McKay says, noting the vital role institutional data will play—data that often wasn’t available until fairly recently. “It gives us insight into how our systems work, and we can compare the approaches of different campuses.”

This week marks the first annual meeting of SEISMIC participants, where they’ll spend a few days brainstorming in Ann Arbor, MI, and pitch each other on research and experiment ideas before settling on at least a dozen key projects. Each institution will host at least six SEISMIC project speakers throughout the year, creating continuous intellectual exchanges across the collaboration, McKay says. All 10 institutions will meet in person every summer to accelerate research, build community, and plan the team’s activities.

“Many ideas are already emerging, and some [participants] will suggest projects already underway that they’d like to expand,” McKay says. “We don’t know exactly where it’ll go, but I really honor the commitment SEISMIC institutions have made. There are still quite a few institutions not willing to look at their own data because they’re afraid of what they’ll find out.”

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