Iowa State part of $10 million effort to encourage a diverse faculty in STEM fields

Students at Des Moines Area Community College work in a robotics lab.

A Des Moines Area Community College instructor (in the background) works with students in the robotics lab on the school's Ankeny Campus. Larger photo. Photo courtesy of Des Moines Area Community College.

AMES, Iowa – A new grant from the National Science Foundation will help Iowa State University researchers continue to develop programs that help graduate students prepare to teach science and technology courses at community colleges.

The grant is from the foundation’s INCLUDES program, a program designed to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A major goal of the initiative is to encourage women, minorities and other underrepresented groups to study and work in STEM fields.

The five-year, $10 million grant will support faculty improvement programs developed by the National Alliance for Inclusive and Diverse STEM Faculty. The alliance is led by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The alliance’s primary goals are to help STEM faculty be more inclusive and effective, develop a more diverse STEM faculty and encourage institutional cultures that value diversity in STEM fields.

Partner schools in the alliance are Iowa State, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Georgia.

Iowa State’s share of the grant is $1.4 million. Craig Ogilvie, an assistant dean for Iowa State’s Graduate College and a Morrill Professor of physics and astronomy, will lead Iowa State’s effort. Other faculty working on the project are Lorenzo Baber, an associate professor in the School of Education and head of the higher education division; and Mary Darrow, the Graduate College assistant director for the IINSPIRE-LSAMP program designed to increase student diversity in STEM studies in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

Iowa State’s part of the project focuses on working with community colleges to recruit and prepare a diverse group of graduate students for teaching careers at community colleges.

“There are a small number of graduate students whose career choice is to teach at community colleges,” Ogilvie said. “For some, this is why they decided to go to graduate school.”

While new community college faculty need to know their subject, as well as the basics of teaching and learning, Ogilvie said current community college faculty have emphasized that graduate students also need to know how to work with students who may have obligations beyond school. Community college classrooms often include a range of student demographics in terms of age, race and experience.

“In community colleges, new faculty often struggle with the fact that work and personal life can intersect with the classroom,” he said.

To help with those and other issues in community college classrooms, the Iowa State researchers will work with UCLA and UTEP to build regional collaborations that include teaching workshops, awareness events and mentoring opportunities. Initially, Iowa State’s collaboration will include the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, Des Moines Area Community College, Kirkwood Community College and Iowa Valley Community College.

The goal is to develop a national network of these regional collaborations. So far, four of the collaborations have been established as part of a pilot study – in Iowa, Southern California, East Texas and West Texas.

“These are grassroots, nitty-gritty collaborations among faculty, graduate students and the community colleges,” Ogilvie said.

The project will also work to help community colleges attract diverse faculty members. That could start with graduate students who come from all over the world and with all sorts of backgrounds.

“What can we do to more intentionally reach out to them about this career?” Ogilvie said. “And how can we support them and work with them to be competitive candidates?”

Iowa State’s efforts, along with the rest of the work supported by the science foundation’s grant, are aimed at the national goals of the INCLUDES program.

“The successful implementation of NSF INCLUDES will result in substantial advances toward a diverse, innovative, and well-prepared STEM workforce to support our nation’s economy,” says a summary of the program, “and continued U. S. leadership in the global STEM enterprise.”