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​SynergIE in Natural Sciences
Building Towards Inclusive Excellence in STEM

Grant Summary:

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD), Department of Natural Sciences (NS) aspires to create a culture of inclusive excellence (IE) through an experimental UHD SynergIE Program that will increase UHDs capacity for access and inclusion. In five years, we anticipate that NS will have a transformed faculty and curriculum that will equitably promote the engagement and success of all students. Approaching our fifth year, our emerging learning ecology model for inclusive excellence will be shared with the college and university as a potential model for inclusive excellence across the university.

The goal of the UHD SynergIE Program is to create a learning environment that promotes inclusive excellence. To reach this goal this program will:

  1. Provide a faculty education and training program to develop faculty as cuturally aware and responsive educators;
  2. Increase access and inclusion for all NS students through a new transparent curricula, with supporting co-curricular, and extracurricular activities targeting all student regardless of their background and entry points into NS degrees; and
  3. Develop physical and digital resources for students to increase their self-efficacy for learning and identity as future scientists.

The UHD SynergIE Program Theory of Change has five key preconditions: (1) developed IE-skilled faculty; (2) faculty and peer mentoring in key first-year and gateway courses; (3) transparent curricula; (4) engaged families; and (5) physical and digital structures that promote self-efficacy for learning.

Our progress will rely on faculty engaged in the principles and best practices of inclusive excellence. This fundamental goal will be reached via formal training of faculty through in-house and external trainings and conferences. The UHD ​Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence and the UHD Center for Critical Race Studies will further develop IE-skilled faculty. These faculty will then leverage current programs and practices at UHD to train fellow naïve faculty, creating a sustainable community of practice. Faculty development in inclusive excellence will be assessed through monitoring the emerging population of trained faculty and their subsequent efforts to develop the skills of their faculty colleagues in inclusive excellence and transparent pedagogy. The Progress towards Inclusive Excellence through Reflection (PIER) will serve as a framework for self-reflective learning by the leadership team, institutional evaluator, and NS faculty.

The ultimate metrics for program learning and progress will be how effectively we close the gap between declared NS majors and NS graduates, and how many underrepresented minority (URM) students graduate with NS degrees. Enhanced student self-efficacy for learning will manifest in student perceptions of inclusivity in the scientific enterprise and their effective use of cultural spaces and other developed resources. Inclusive practices and transparent pedagogy are assessed through traditional metrics of student success and surveys that measure student engagement with their education. Surveys regarding physical and digital resources, effectiveness of culturally-relevant instruction, and family engagement will reveal student satisfaction with the UHD SynergIE Program. Continuous self-reflection and professional assessment of SynergIE activities will assess organizational learning.