TU receives $1 million national grant to transform undergraduate, minority student success in STEM

TU’s Fisher College of Science and Mathematics has seen an 84 percent increase in minority student majors since 2012.

June 7, 2017

Fisher College associate professor Matthew Hemm, one of the lead investigators on the grant, in his lab.
Fisher College associate professor Matthew Hemm, one of the lead investigators on the grant, in his lab.

Towson University Jess & Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics faculty members Laura Gough, Matthew Hemm and their team will receive $1 million over five years from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as part of their inaugural Inclusive Excellence initiative.

The TU proposal was one of over 500 pre-proposals submitted, one of 90 invited full proposals and one of just 24 grants awarded.

Gough’s and Hemm’s team aims to implement the Towson University-Research Enhancement Program (TU-REP) to bring authentic research experiences to a large, diverse group of students early in their undergraduate science careers. The program will recruit students—specifically transfer students and members of under-represented minorities—who are interested in science; create a curriculum and support system that promotes participation in multiple authentic research projects; and provide assistance in continuing research at TU and beyond.

“Research shows that undergraduates engaged in authentic research are more likely to persist in science and math classes, to graduate, and to pursue STEM careers,” said David Vanko, dean of the college. “The Howard Hughes Inclusive Excellence grant provides us with an opportunity to truly transform how we encourage and engage students in undergraduate research.”

The initiative’s broad objective is to help colleges and universities encourage participation and cultivate the talent of students in the natural sciences, particularly those of diverse backgrounds and pathways.

“The Fisher College of Science and Mathematics is strongly committed to the success of our minority students and those who are the first from their families to attend college,” said Vanko. “Without every student succeeding, we can’t easily deliver on our obligation to provide a qualified STEM workforce for Maryland. This grant will move us closer to our student success goal.”

Laura Gough head shot
Professor and Department of Biological Sciences chairperson Laura Gough was the primary investigator for the grant.

TU’s Fisher College provides a welcoming and inclusive environment for under-represented populations, Vanko said. Fisher has the largest percentage of minority students of all of the colleges and has experienced an 84 percent increase in minority student majors since 2012.

Fisher’s Towson Opportunities in STEM (TOPS) program is specifically designed to increase STEM major retention with its focus on academic achievement and career opportunities. TU’s STEM Scholars residential learning community provides an environment that fosters academic and social success for STEM students.

Towson University President Kim Schatzel underscored the grant’s support of TU’s undergraduate academic experience and the university as a national model in minority student success.

“Towson University is proud to be nationally recognized with this prestigious HHMI grant, which will enable us to further enhance our recent growth in minority STEM majors,” President Schatzel said.  “TU continues to lead the nation in minority academic achievement, and I am especially pleased that this research enhancement program will advance our priorities of diversity and inclusion.”

The 24-grantee schools share a common goal: increasing institutional capacity for inclusion. That could mean changing curriculum, institutional policies, or the attitudes and skills of faculty.

“We’re thinking differently about how HHMI can help move science education forward,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”


This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland, Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Campus, and Strategic Plan Alignment.