Jackson State University joins national alliance aimed at developing more inclusive, diverse STEM faculty

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University announced today that it’s one of 19 universities to join a three-year institutional change effort to develop inclusive faculty recruitment, hiring and retention practices in STEM. It’s co-partnering with Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in an effort known as Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty.

The announcement means that JSU is now part of a new cohort that is joining two earlier cohorts that are currently working together to advance such work, bringing the total number of institutions participating in the institutional change effort to 54. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the effort as part of its INCLUDES initiative.

Efforts to increase underrepresented faculty have not been as successful as intended, particularly in STEM, and a 2019 NSF analysis revealed that underrepresented minority faculty occupied a mere nine percent of professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions.

Other research reportedly shows that 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.

So, aimed at ensuring that all STEM faculty use inclusive teaching practices and that institutions increase the diversity of their STEM professoriate, participating universities in Aspire 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 throughout all their STEM programs.

Dr. Alisa Mosley, interim provost at JSU, said the administration realizes the critical impact of a more diverse and inclusive faculty, especially for reflecting the varying ideals of under-represented groups and their populations and cultures.

“We must tend to an emerging transformation in academic demographics at the national level,” Mosley said. “By joining the Aspire national alliance, JSU will be able assess best practices that foster faculty diversity and inclusion with the 19-partner institutions.”

To achieve its goals, Mosley said JSU will create a network of workshops and seminars for students, faculty and administrators to share best experiences related to diversity and inclusion. She added that JSU will adopt development practices to help faculty members transform their STEM teachings, mentoring and learning environments. By doing so, she expects an increase in the number of under-represented students entering the STEM workforce and in the recruitment of graduates at the professoriate level.

The Aspire Alliance, which APLU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison facilitate with the involvement of several universities, is engaging the new cohort of 19 universities through its Institutional Change (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.

For years, JSU has been building on past and existing partnerships with the NSF to include and advance under-represented students. Among those sponsored by the NSF includes Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering careers (ADVANCE); the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP); and Research Infrastructure for Science and Engineering (RISE) to enhance the recruitment, training and provide a pipeline to doctoral and professoriate attainment in academia.

Moreover, Mosley highlighted JSU’s participation in the Institutional Change Through Faculty Advancement in Instructorship and Mentorship (ICFAIM) program. It helps transform teaching and mentoring practices to increase the STEM workforce. Also, JSU’s Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development encourages interdisciplinary involvement on creative ideas.

“We face a critical shortfall of diversity in STEM fields nationally,” said Travis York, APLU’s Assistant Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs, who is also co-leader of the IChange Network. “The institutions participating in the IChange Network are moving beyond statements and into actions as they seek to enact inclusive organizational structures to increase diversity of their faculty and value the use of equity-minded practices by all faculty.”

“We are excited to have these 19 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 and second cohorts, this new cohort expands our potential to identify and share the most promising innovative practices toward diversifying the STEM professoriate and ensure their teaching, advising, and mentoring is inclusive.

Other institutions in the new cohort are Appalachian State University; California Polytechnic State University, Pomona; Grand Valley State University; Lehigh University; Louisiana Tech University; Mississippi State University; and Pennsylvania State University. Others include Stevens Institute of Technology; Temple University; The Ohio State University; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Denver; University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The rest are University of Maryland, College Park; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of Pittsburgh; Utah State University; and Virginia Tech.