Auburn University joins national alliance aimed at developing a more inclusive and diverse STEM faculty

Article body

Auburn University has joined a growing national alliance in a three-year effort to develop inclusive faculty recruitment, hiring and retention practices. 

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, or APLU, co-leads the effort, known as Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty. The newest cohort of 20 universities being added today, to include Auburn, joins an inaugural set of 15 institutions that began working together to advance such work earlier this year. The National Science Foundation funds the effort as part of its Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science, or INCLUDES, initiative.

Aimed at ensuring all STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—faculty use inclusive teaching practices and that institutions increase the diversity of their STEM professoriate, participating universities begin their work with a self-assessment of current practices and assets. The institutions will then develop and implement campus action plans to drive change and scale such efforts across all of their STEM programs.

“Auburn is pleased to partner with the APLU to support our faculty in cultivating inclusive pedagogical strategies, inclusive classrooms and in further diversifying the talent pipeline of higher education's STEM professoriate,” said Taffye Benson Clayton, associate provost and vice president for inclusion and diversity. “Preparing faculty for successful leadership on matters of diversity, inclusion and equity is vital to effectiveness at the academic core of our institutions.”

The Aspire Alliance, which APLU and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning, or CIRTL, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison facilitate with the involvement of several universities, is engaging the new cohort of 20 universities through its Institutional Change, or IChange, Network. The network provides universities with comprehensive support and resources for institutional change, including access to national partners in a concierge-style approach to technical assistance.

“Recruiting, hiring and retaining more inclusive and diverse STEM faculty on our campuses is essential for the increased success of all STEM students, the increased quality and production of our scientists and public universities’ ability to achieve their mission to improve lives,” said Travis York, APLU’s assistant vice president, Academic and Student Affairs, who is also co-leader of the IChange Network. “Increasing diversity, equity and inclusion within a project aimed at catalyzing large-scale innovation and change is extremely difficult—which is why we’re thrilled to announce a new cohort of institutions committed to working collaboratively to do exactly that on their campuses.”

To support these efforts, Auburn’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity, or OID, and the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning have created a three-part learning opportunity related to facilitating critical conversations in learning environments. In spring 2019, OID provided faculty members with the tools they need to close gaps in educational attainment for historically underrepresented students.

“We are excited to have these 20 impressive universities expand the IChange Network and bring their deep commitment to transforming STEM education,” said Tonya Peeples, associate dean for Equity and Inclusion of the Penn State College of Engineering and co-leader of the Alliance’s IChange Network. “Learning from and alongside our exceptional first cohort, this second cohort will grow our potential to identify and share the most promising innovative practices towards diversifying the STEM professoriate and ensure their teaching, advising and mentoring is inclusive. All of this will help ensure the success of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

Despite the centrality of diversity in learning and student success, efforts to increase underrepresented faculty have not been as successful as intended, particularly in STEM. A 2019 NSF analysis revealed that underrepresented minority faculty occupied a mere 9 percent of professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Other research shows when underrepresented students are taught by diverse faculty members they achieve at significantly higher rates; as much as 20 to 50 percent of the course achievement gaps between minority and majority students are eliminated.

The other public research universities in the new cohort are: Ball State University; Central Michigan University; Florida International University; Iowa State University; North Dakota State University; South Dakota State University; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; the University of Texas at Austin; University of Arkansas; University of California, Davis; University of Cincinnati; University of Florida; University of Georgia; University of Missouri; the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; University of North Carolina at Charlotte; University of North Texas; University of South Florida; and Western Michigan University.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.