Faculty, staff and students within the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering are organizing to support students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM.
Following its first semester on campus, the CSE Diversity and Inclusivity Alliance hopes to improve hiring and recruiting practices, retention initiatives and graduation rates. To date, the Alliance has already implemented trainings for CSE teaching assistants and research assistants and has worked with the Women’s Center to develop a new training series on gender allyship. The group has also led efforts to make CSE’s mission statement more inclusive.
“Priority number one is everyone must feel welcome,” said Edgar Arriaga, a professor of chemistry and one of the Alliance’s founders. “We all learn differently, and we are part of communities that hold different identities. We cannot assume that the traditional way of teaching and the traditional way of learning is going to be the most effective one.”
The Alliance launched with a kickoff event in October. At the event, the group presented their strategic plan to college administrators. The plan includes, among other things, increasing education and communication to support non-majority students, which include women, LGBTQ+ students, students of color, students with disabilities, international students and people with mental health conditions.
Arriaga began forming the organization last spring along with some students, faculty and staff. He currently serves as a co-leader with Cara Santelli, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
“This is a really exciting moment, and it's easy to get swept away in that sort of energy and movement when everyone is really feeling empowered to bring about change,” Santelli said.
Santelli said she feels the work of the Alliance extends past the University.
“I really believe that this alliance is doing something really important for our college but also for the University as a whole and also beyond,” she said. “As a woman in science, I’ve experienced things, and I haven't always had people to look up to who I can say, ‘Oh, yeah, this is a person that I really see myself as.’”
Per the University’s Spring 2020 enrollment data for CSE, students of color make up almost 18% of the college, while women make up around 28%. International students make up 24%.
Dario Bilardello, a professor in Earth and Environmental Sciences and a member of his department’s diversity committee, also said his experiences drove his involvement.
“I’m half Italian and half British, so I’ve always been an international person,” he said. “I know what it's like to hear, ‘You're not from here, and you don't understand how things work here,’ which is a very common theme.”
Due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group hopes to continue cultural sensitivity trainings virtually.