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Academics

Six-year grant will help Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s faculty to continue fostering inclusivity

The College of Saint Benedict, in collaboration with Saint John’s University, has received a six-year grant worth $505,000 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to work with a group of other colleges and universities to research how to cultivate, evaluate and reward effective and inclusive teaching by their faculty.

The funding, which was publicly announced Wednesday (Nov. 30), is part of an Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) grant program offered by HHMI. Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are among 104 schools divided into seven learning community clusters that will work together to increase capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those who belong to groups underrepresented in the sciences.

The work, which officially began Nov. 1, builds on the results of several previous grants. In 2021, CSB and SJU received a two-year HHMI grant for $30,000 to build intra- and intercampus relationships, examine institutional barriers to inclusion, establish processes and leverage diversity to increase institutional capacity as a prelude to the larger IE3 funding. In 2018, Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s received a $600,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support BECOMING Community, an initiative focused on transformative inclusion and community building. And, in 2015, CSB and SJU each received a $100,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to kickstart planning and piloting pedagogical experiments.

“This is a very unusual grant,” said Amanda Macht Jantzer, an associate professor of psychology, who will serve as project director for the latest HHMI grant at CSB and SJU. “It changed over time as we went along. We’ve been collaborating for two years, mostly through Zoom meetings, developing a plan to implement and coordinate across the cluster and also customize it for each institution.”

Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s will be part of a group that includes Boise State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, National University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Queens College, Skidmore College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Tuskegee University, Union College, the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Rhode Island, and Willamette University.

“Our cluster has nearly $8 million to be used over six years,” Jantzer said. “There’s a lot to be excited about in terms of the mission. I think we can do more together than each of us would’ve been able to do individually.”

Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s will participate in three projects. Initially they will join some of the other members of the cluster in two of them: to evaluate teaching that supports diverse, equitable, inclusive, just and accessible learning; and to develop professional development opportunities to achieve those goals. Later, CSB and SJU will work with others to develop data-informed cycles of inquiry to evaluate success. The only other schools from Minnesota to participate in the IE3 funding are Gustavus and the University of Minnesota-Morris.

“This is a grant that was for faculty by faculty,” Jantzer said. “It’s primarily about faculty development. How can we do more to serve our students in a really inclusive way? What is inclusive, just, diverse, equitable, accessible teaching? How do we demonstrate and measure it? How do we do it better? This is about professional development. Instead of having a model where faculty need to do it on their own or get funding to go somewhere for training, we can join together to do this work better and more efficiently.

“Sometimes it’s about representation: Who are we seeing or not seeing in our curriculum and our materials? What are important stories that are told or not told? It could be about how faculty interact with their classroom, how we can address and confront things like microaggression, how we handle sensitive topics or outdated language. It may impact how we handle policies in our classes, what we do with syllabi, accessibility and how we work with student services. It’s about identifying things that negatively impact student success and feelings of belonging. What is our role as faculty in food insecurity or lack of access to transportation?”

At Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s, just like other schools across the nation, students face hurdles that can impact their ability to learn and get off-campus clinical or student-teaching experience, for example.

“I want students to know there is concerted effort happening on campus and it will be ongoing,” Jantzer said. “There are some things we can point to already.”

The $30,000 HHMI grant helped launch an inclusive speaker series and workshops this academic year, and faculty will have the opportunity to earn digital badges for their participation and reflection on inclusive teaching practices in their own classrooms.

“The work has already begun and now we can start this next, bigger phase,” Jantzer said.

Joining Jantzer on the core team to lead the IE3 work are Deborah Pembleton, associate professor of global business leadership and director of the Asian studies program; Madeleine Israelson, associate professor of education; Kyhl Lyndgaard, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies and director of the CSB and SJU Writing Center; Laura Taylor, associate professor of theology and director of CSB and SJU’s Center for Teaching and Learning; and Annette Raigoza, associate professor of chemistry.

“Inclusive teaching is central to how we think about Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s,” Jantzer said. “Excellent teaching is inclusive teaching. And we don’t just want to do great things that are grant funded and have them go away when the grant expires. We want to embed these processes into the system so we can sustain them. And you can’t really create inclusive work without student voices, and I think that’s true for staff and other employees, too. None of us succeed without collaborating on campus.”