HHMI $1 million grant supports Mount Mary's efforts to break down barriers for underrepresented women in STEM

Mount Mary University will create and implement strategies for decreasing educational barriers for underrepresented students through a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Inclusive Excellence Initiative.

Participating in this grant will put Mount Mary at the forefront of national efforts to create intentional, institutional change, said Lynn Diener, Ph.D., Chair of the Sciences Department and Program Director of the grant. The university will participate in HHMI-sponsored research on the topic of inclusion and institutional change.

"Other institutions will be able to implement similar practices to increase the success rate for students across the United States," said Cheryl Bailey, PhD, Dean of the School of Natural, Health Sciences, and Education. "By advancing the university's national outreach and reputation, Mount Mary foresees an increase in opportunities that will create lasting change for current and future students."

The HHMI initiative began in 2017. Out of 594 applicant institutions over the past two years, Mount Mary was one of only 57 institutions across the nation to receive this grant.

The project is comprised of two main initiatives: campus-wide training to reduce barriers so that all students can succeed and activities to build STEM students' sense of belonging. As a result, the university expects the graduation rate from students from underserved populations will continue to grow, further removing the economic divide between majority and minority populations. In 2017, 52.9 percent of Mount Mary's student body identified themselves as students of color.

"When we help students who have barriers succeed, we make an education a realistic attainment. This grant builds upon Mount Mary's greatest strengths."

Christine Pharr, Ph.D
Mount Mary University President

"This is a growth opportunity for Mount Mary," Diener said. "These campus-wide workshops and seminars will facilitate intentional change and growth as an institution."

Some objectives for this initiative include:

  • Campus-wide workshops in unlearning racism, trauma-informed interactions, and interventions to reduce math anxiety.
  • Seminar series on the sociopolitical heritage of Milwaukee and hiring and retention practices for recruiting and retaining faculty and staff of color.
  • Increased campus representation of scientists who have overcome challenges.
  • Creating STEM-specific service learning and research opportunities for students.

With an ongoing commitment to equal education among students as demonstrated through programs such as National Science Foundation funded Jewel Scholars and Burke Foundation funded Grace Scholars, the grant will not only improve the learning experience and environment for students in STEM programs, but for all students at Mount Mary.

"By looking inward and having a greater understanding of ourselves as an institution, we will discover how to reduce barriers to opportunity," said Mount Mary President Christine Pharr, Ph.D. "Our goal is to make science more accessible. When we help students who have barriers succeed, we make an education a realistic attainment. This grant builds upon Mount Mary's greatest strengths."