JMU awarded $1 million to advance inclusive excellence in science

james madison university jmuThe Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded $1 million to James Madison University to strengthen the school’s ability to engage students of all backgrounds in science. With this grant, JMU will begin this fall to implement an innovative plan for biology majors, which is especially important now as the number of community college transfer and first-generation students continues to grow.

JMU is one of 57 schools nationwide to receive a five-year Inclusive Excellence grant, following two rounds of competition that attracted applications from 594 institutions. “We are honored to be chosen for this prestigious award,” said Dr. Tim Bloss, associate professor of biology in the College of Science and Mathematics. “Our goal is to create a pervasive and enduring culture in the department of biology that exemplifies inclusiveness and inspires other departments in the college and beyond to expand access to and achievement in science.”

Bloss will lead an implementation team of 21 faculty members and student representatives in collaboration with a university leadership group. Together, they will work to ensure that all biology majors, whether they come to JMU through traditional or non-traditional pathways, develop a sense of belonging in the college and an identity as future scientists.

The department’s program to advance inclusiveness centers around three components. First, it will engage all faculty and staff in professional development focused on cultural competencies.  Second, it will provide a custom-designed, course-based research experience for incoming transfer students. An early research experience is a particularly powerful way to engage STEM students, but by arriving as sophomores or juniors, transfers miss out on the research course for first-year students. Third, the program will create an owned space, the BioCommons, where students and faculty can build a strong community and work together to establish inclusive departmental practices.

Dr. Cynthia Bauerle, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, is impressed with the department of biology’s eagerness to ensure that all biology majors stay in the program and achieve their potential. “This is a highly opportune time,” Bauerle observed, “to craft a model of inclusive excellence in science that responds to the unique characteristics of JMU and that will be relevant beyond the walls of our institution.”

JMU President Jonathan Alger enthusiastically supports the effort. “This initiative to identify and eliminate barriers to student success — especially those that may discourage or disadvantage certain students — aligns with our vision to be the national model for the engaged university,” Alger explained. “We know our work is not done. The department of biology’s plan promises to model inclusive teaching that values the contribution of every student and promotes full engagement in their learning.”

By ensuring that all biology majors have the opportunity to excel and to pursue science careers, JMU will be helping to expand the diversity of perspectives that today’s scientific community needs for solving difficult problems.

Headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance basic biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity.

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