Why We Started
Foundational STEM courses introduce disciplines and act as gateways to majors. At large research universities, these courses are taught to hundreds or even thousands of students a term. They strongly influence career choice and present persistent challenges to diversifying STEM fields. They are often taught in industrial ways, with little recognition of or response to the diversity of students. As a result, outcomes disappoint everyone involved.
Students – especially those who do not fit the model of those already successful in STEM – struggle to achieve their goals or receive the support they need. Faculty members know their students learn much less than they’d like and are rarely inspired. Campus leaders are attracted by the financial benefits of education at scale, but worry that these courses present outsize barriers to student progress. Everyone working to make STEM disciplines more equitable and inclusive is acutely aware that these remote, impersonal foundational courses present a persistent problem.
We propose to address this problem in a new way, launching a sustained multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary STEM education research and development collaboration. This collaboration will be motivated by a clear-eyed, openly stated focus on equity and inclusion in large foundational courses as the central goal of the reform process, harnessing a higher level of collective passion from the students, faculty, staff, and administrators who participate. We will also help to define a new standard for STEM reform projects: a class cannot be successful unless it is equitable and inclusive. To recognize this focus, we will call the project SEISMIC, for “Sloan Equity and Inclusion in STEM Introductory Courses.”
SEISMIC will take advantage of efforts already underway on many university campuses, drawing together a close, multifaceted collaboration of STEM reform communities from ~10 large research universities. Participants will connect through parallel data analyses and data sharing, coordinated experiments, continuous exchange of speakers and graduate student researchers, and extended annual meetings. Parallel analyses and data sharing will focus on studies of equity and inclusion and STEM persistence across all institutions. Coordinated experimentation will be explored across multiple campuses and in multiple disciplines. Continuous exchange of speakers and annual meetings will accelerate research, build community, enhance the spread of ideas, and reinforce our focus on equity and inclusion as a central metric for STEM reform success.