PROMISE Task Force
Promoting an Inclusive Student Experience
Attrition in the Biological Sciences major disproportionately affects students from racial and ethnic minorities, at-risk students, students with low SAT scores, students with low socioeconomic status, and first-generation college students. Over the last five years, retention for minoritized students in Bio Sci was lower by 10-15% in the first year and 15-20% in the second and third years. It is believed that many of these students leave the Biology major either due to shifting interests or because they find the program requirements too rigorous. However, this is not supported either by our own data or according to large national studies.
National studies on STEM persistence have repeatedly demonstrated that minoritized students are not leaving STEM majors of their own accord. They are effectively being pushed out by virtue of pedagogy, advising, and peer engagement that does not foster their interests and promote their intellectual growth. For example, the seminal “Talking about Leaving Revisited” Study (Hunter et al. 2019) concludes that overall, problems with students’ classroom learning experiences continue to dominate as factors contributing to STEM majors’ decisions to switch.
Current curricular and pedagogical structures make it more difficult for minoritized students to thrive as BioSci majors. For example, our measures of achievement and performance are based on the assumption that our job as educators is as “gatekeepers” who can only allow those who are “worthy” to attain a degree. We must recognize the truth that our job is to provide every student the opportunity to maximize their full potential. We must rethink the culture of our classrooms, “weed-out” courses, grading practices, curves, examinations, and other forms of assessment and mentoring to ensure that our teaching is equitable and inclusive, whilst maintaining high standards of academic rigor.
We must also recognize that students have complex learning ecologies that influence, challenge, and promote their learning including family, financial background, peers, communities, and society. These complexities are rarely addressed in our teaching and mentoring. Finally, we cannot teach and mentor equitably by using race- and color-blind approaches. Research on culturally responsive pedagogy has shown that racially minoritized students have fewer opportunities to connect their learning to the topics and themes of personal or cultural interest to them (their lived experience). This set of complexities makes it virtually impossible to solve the problems at hand with incremental or short-term fixes. Transformational change requires introspection / reflection, on-going input from minoritized populations, and a long-term actionable vision.
Task Force Goal
The purpose of the PROMISE Task Force is to critically examine all aspects of what it means to be an undergraduate BioSci student today from the lens of promoting diversity, access, equity and inclusion. The overarching goal is to ensure equity in learning opportunities for a diverse population of BioSci undergraduates and to promote an inclusive environment where all students in the major are able to thrive while maintaining high standards of academic rigor. To meet this goal, the task force will engage in systematic strategic planning to identify mission-driven goals and develop goal-aligned strategies for implementation with continuous feedback from key stakeholder groups.
Process and Timeline
Symposium and Opinion Gathering
To kickstart the PROMISE Task Force effort, a one-day event was hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to (1) provide critical knowledge from campus experts in DEI topics relevant to undergraduate education, (2) hear from a panel of undergraduate students about their experience, and (3) facilitate an open and honest discussion among faculty, advising staff and the student panelists.
Preparation and Asynchronous Exchange Phase
The task force will begin by considering the extant data on student interests, goals and outcomes in BioSci and assessing relevant literature on best teaching practices for a culturally diverse student population, promoting equity and inclusion in college education, as well as teaching social justice standards at a college level, among other important topics related to the task force’s work. No meetings are envisioned during this time, but asynchronous communication will be encouraged through the use of Google Docs. A qualitative survey will also be disseminated to the faculty to ensure that their diverse perspectives are taken into consideration by the group. These two exercises will generate additional data for the task force to consider.
Big Picture “Blue Sky” Thinking Phase
The task force will first consider an unrestricted framework guided by our mission, which pushes beyond the constraints of the current pedagogical practices in the school to ask the important question “What does a 21st century undergraduate education in biology mean?”. This discussion should be conducted in the context of the background materials and knowledge of the outcomes and opportunities gaps that exist in BioSci, but every effort should be made not to restrict the discussions to the current systems and practices in BioSci. The point is to encourage creative ideas and out-of-the-box frameworks that might be difficult to imagine with the current system’s restrictions.
Strategic Planning Phase
The task force will complete a strategic planning process. This will include defining authentic aims for DEI in the undergraduate experience, a clear mission and vision for undergraduate education, a SWOT analysis of the School, iteration of goals that follow the S.M.A.R.T criteria (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based), an implementation plan, risk analysis, benchmarks, and measures of success.
The task force will finalize the recommendations that result from the strategic planning process and develop a prioritization matrix that evaluates risk/effort vs. impact/value for each strategy. The task force will then provide a formal report summarizing the work of the group, the process by which the task force arrived at its recommendations, as well as the results of the strategic planning process.
The implementation plan will be studied by the DEI office and converted to proposals for approval through BioSci’s Undergraduate Cabinet and the School’s Executive Committees. Proposals that require campus-level approval will be discussed with DUE and OVPTL for formulation of next steps, which may require Academic Senate approval.
To maintain privacy of panelists and student participants, the symposium was not recorded, but the presenters have shared their slides, which can be downloaded below in PDF format.
- What do the numbers tell us concerning the retention and success outcomes of minoritized students in BioSci?
- What is the goal of an undergraduate education in BioSci? What is the student perspective? What is the faculty perspective? What might we be missing?
- How do we define excellence and success in our undergraduate program? Do these definitions impact what kind of students are/are not successful in our program? What are the assumptions associated with our definition of success?
- What is our role as educators, administrators and staff in BioSci in achieving the above goal(s)?
- What is the role of coursework in achieving the above goal(s)?
View more questions
- What are the structural elements and cultural assumptions inherent in our school’s undergraduate education curricular structures that perpetuate inequities?
- How does the tension between the school’s perceived role as an enforcer of academic standards and its role as an educational entity with the goal of enriching student’s lives and supporting them in achieving their highest potential result in these structures?
- How do traditional narrow definitions of excellence impact how students are selected and retained in the major and create barriers to many students and prevent them from achieving at their highest potential?
- How do our social and cultural perspectives influence our approach to our work?
- How can we better promote equity and inclusion in the undergraduate experience? How can we transform curricular structures and assumptions to work towards positive change?
- What types of careers is our BioSci undergraduate education preparing students for? Does this align with student expectations?
- What is the spectrum of competencies undergraduate BioSci students need to master? How are these competencies introduced and evaluated in the undergraduate curriculum?
- What are the social justice standards that should be incorporated in our BioSci experience? How do we incorporate them effectively?
- What is the role of undergraduate research experience in BioSci? How can we optimize this experience so that it addresses the spectrum of competencies needed for success in biological sciences?
- What are culturally responsive pedagogical techniques that we should be implementing?
- How can we increase the faculty and TA utilization of these techniques to ensure that individuals from minoritized populations are included and that their success is supported?
- How do we create a robust, cohesive, scalable and inclusive advising and success promotion program for biological sciences undergraduates that can be introduced early and is based on clear milestones and benchmarks for evaluation?
- What is the advising philosophy employed by Bio Sci student affairs? How are our advising approaches manifested in our philosophy (and vice versa)? How can this philosophy and implementation best consider DEI?
- What are the financial risks involved in changing our model and resource allocation for advising? What are other factors, outside of funding, that are barriers between advising and minoritized student success?
- How do we recognize faculty contributions to inclusive teaching? How can we evaluate inclusion in teaching and ask the right questions in terms of evaluating DEI contributions to teaching excellence?
- How do we measure success (as an institution, as a school, and at the student level)? How do we appropriately evaluate any changes we institute?
If you would like to provide feedback on any of the above questions, there are several ways to do so.
You can email any of the task force members and either send feedback directly or set up a meeting to discuss.
A qualitative survey was sent to Bio Sci faculty in February 2021 and feedback was solicited. A Wellness survey was also deployed to undergraduate students in March 2021 to comprehensively assess our baseline. Results from both surveys will be aggregated and posted on the Inclusion website soon.