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The University of Texas at ArlingtonThe University of Texas at Arlington

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Department of Biology News

UTA involved in program aimed at increasing diversity among STEM faculty

James Grover, College of Science associate dean for research and graduate studies and professor of biology

The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science is part of a new program designed to diversify STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) faculty in higher education and improve their ability to be effective teachers.

The program, named ASPIRE: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty, is part of a national umbrella program, named the INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) Alliance. Aspire is one of a small number of INCLUDES Alliance projects funded by the National Science Foundation. INCLUDES Alliance projects are large, multi-institution projects, and Aspire was awarded a $20 million, five-year grant. UTA’s involvement with the program is being led by James Grover, College of Science associate dean for research and graduate studies and professor of biology.

 “The goal of the INCLUDES Alliance is to improve participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM education,” Grover said. “The ASPIRE Alliance has three components: first, to provide faculty with professional development on creating inclusive classroom environments; second, to provide support for STEM faculty from under-represented minorities; and third, to find ways to provide professional development for Ph.D. students who want to become teachers at community colleges. Community colleges are where many underrepresented minority students in STEM start their path through higher education.”

UTA is now working on this third component, providing support and professional development for students who want to become STEM teachers at community colleges. UTA is working in partnership with Tarrant Community College (TCC) to encourage undergraduate and graduate students in STEM majors to consider teaching science and mathematics courses at community colleges.

“The ASPIRE Alliance involves a number of efforts to diversify STEM faculty in higher education across the nation and improve their ability to be effective teachers,” Grover said. “The cultivation of a pathway from doctoral studies to community colleges is just a part of a larger set of initiatives, and what we are doing is being replicated at other locations around the country.”

A workshop on faculty careers was held on February 8, when a dozen TCC faculty members came to UTA to speak with more than 20 STEM doctoral students to introduce them to what it’s like to be a faculty member at a community college. Several of the students are now engaged in classroom visits, to see what classes are actually like at TCC.

“The workshop was very successful,” Grover said. “There was a lot of good discussion between our students and the TCC faculty. Our students were able to see how committed and how enthusiastic the faculty at TCC are, and that helps open our students’ eyes about the possibilities of teaching at the community college level. We have a number of Ph.D. students who go on to teach at community colleges, and this program will give them the support and professional development they need to be successful.”

The program will allow some of the UTA doctoral students to do a longer teaching practicum at TCC under the guidance of mentor teachers, during the fall semester of 2019. Similar programs are being conducted at UT Tyler, UT El Paso, UCLA and Iowa State University.

“The idea is to replicate the program in large metropolitan areas, smaller cities, in densely urban and more rural areas, and see what similarities and differences there are,” Grover said.   

Participation in the INCLUDES Alliance is UTA’s latest effort to improve methods of teaching and learning. UTA has been a member of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) since 2012. CIRTL was established in 2003 with funding from the NSF to improve the teaching skills and increase the diversity of future STEM university faculty members.

UTA is also a member of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), North America's oldest higher education association, which champions diversity and educational equity. CIRTL and APLU are co-leaders of the INCLUDES Alliance grant provided by the NSF.