A one million dollar grant has been awarded to RIT's College of Science from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The grant, titled The Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Inclusive Excellence Initiative, has the goal of increasing diversity in the natural sciences. Outgoing President Bill Destler announced the grant at the University Gallery on June 7.

“At RIT, this grant will assist the College of Science in building research, curricula and community to increase the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing, female and African American, Latino American and Native American students in the medical sciences,” President Destler said, adding that this includes the natural sciences. The grant also supports inclusion of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds as well as LGBTQIA+ individuals. 

"In many respects, diversity is not just access to science, but better science," said Dr. Jeremy Haefner, provost. 

Since RIT moved to the new campus in the late sixties, the number of African American students has increased by 50 percent while the amount of female students has increased by 20 percent. 

“Our commitment to educating students in STEM fields has been a fundamental part of our mission for decades," President Destler said. "And we have been a leader in diversity programming — and more importantly, results — since the late 1990s.”

Of 500 institutions to apply for this grant, only 24 were selected.

"This is a big deal," emphasized Dr. Keith Jenkins, associate provost for Diversity and Inclusion. 

"This is a big deal."

When asked if they would be interested in participating in a diversity program, over 70 percent of College of Science staff agreed. The grant will be used to fund different programs that will help faculty encourage and understand diversity. There will be workshops to teach faculty how to better mentor non-traditional students, classroom activities, community events and theatrical exercises. 

"The activities in the classroom will really help students sort of recognize that they fit in even if they may feel that they don’t," said Dr. Scott Franklin, co-director of the grant writing team and professor of physics. "That every person goes through moments of not knowing the answer or feeling very uncomfortable and the whole point of the classroom activities is to make that discussion the norm."

The grant writing team will be heavily involved in the creation of these programs. Dr. Elizabeth Hane, associate head of the Gosnell School of Life Sciences, will be developing the classroom activities. Dr. Dina Newman, co-director and associate professor in the Gosnell School of Life Sciences and Dr. Lea Michel, associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Material Sciences will work together to train professors on research mentoring. Dr. Jennifer Connelly, visiting assistant professor of physics, and Tina Chapman, Diversity Theater program developer, will work to develop around 100 five-minute theatrical pieces to help faculty understand how to be open to issues in diversity, social justice and community.

"We are really trying to increase the communication between students, between faculty and staff, so everyone sees themselves as part of a community and not just three different pieces," said Franklin. "This is all about improving the experience for the students.”

"This is all about improving the experience for the students."