Indiana University-Minority Serving Institutions

Since 2015, a five-year, $1.66 million grant from the Department of the Navy has helped the initiative involve faculty and increase collaborations designed to become a self-sustaining and replicable model. As part of the Fully Engaged Partners component of the IU-MSI STEM Initiative, partner institutions will each annually invest $5,500 to support faculty and student research engagement, while IU and the Department of the Navy will triple that investment for a robust partnership.

That means more students from minority-serving institutions can have the opportunity to participate in a research experience where they have two sets of faculty mentors—one from their home institution and one from IU—and can extend their research throughout the academic year. Meanwhile, IU faculty will be able to forge new collaborations on research with their peers from minority-serving institutions, forming mutually beneficial relationships in the process.

Furthermore, added Yolanda Treviño, co-principal investigator of the IU-MSI STEM Initiative and assistant vice president of strategy, planning, and assessment in IU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA). “Student scholars are more prepared for STEM futures because of the time they’ve spent working in faculty-mentored labs.

Initially, I was a bit nervous, because I didn’t know if the skills I had would translate to an R1. But I found out that all my skills were transferable, so it really helped me gain a lot more confidence in my skills as a researcher and helped me refine them as well.

Kristen Lewis, Ph.D. graduate of Jackson State University in Mississippi (one of the IU-MSI STEM Initiative’s Fully Engaged Partners

“The vision for this initiative when it comes to fruition is that there are connections between individuals from different institutions and from those different perspectives, participants—both faculty and students—will be able to look at their research through a new lens because of their experiences in this initiative,” continued Treviño.

The benefits of taking part in the initiative is evident in the success of its alumni. For example, Kristen Lewis, a Ph.D. graduate of Jackson State University in Mississippi (one of the IU-MSI STEM Initiative’s Fully Engaged Partners), credits her exposure to faculty mentors through her participation in SSI with her early-career success.

“It was really nice to get to know students from other universities who were both in my field or in completely different fields. Also, it was great because I came from an HBCU and IU is an R1 [Research I university]. Initially, I was a bit nervous, because I didn’t know if the skills I had would translate to an R1. But I found out that all my skills were transferable, so it really helped me gain a lot more confidence in my skills as a researcher and helped me refine them as well,” said Lewis, who is now an assistant professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Bloomsburg University.

“Working with IU researchers was a whole new level for me. They also had speakers come in—minority professors who spoke to us about their experience, so it made me feel less isolated in my experience. And since I’m in computational chemistry, we’re always looking for supercomputers for our projects. IU’s resources allowed me to use Big Red [one of IU’s supercomputers], which was great because it didn’t have as many limits as I had at my home institution.”

The upward career trajectories of Lewis and other students, including a number of past participants who recently completed their doctoral degrees and successfully defended their dissertations, is obviously ideal for both IU and its partner MSI institutions. But it’s the possibilities for the future that excite Jack Schmit, director and co-principal investigator of the IU-MSI STEM Initiative.

“For me, the most gratifying part of this work is watching both faculty and students get excited about research. It’s very rewarding to watch their excitement turn into future plans and know that we had an impact in that process, by providing students with experiences to increase their confidence and broadening faculty experiences,” said Schmit, who also serves as the assistant dean of IU’s University Graduate School. “The ultimate success would be witnessing someone who went through our program 10 years ago, who is now a faculty member at a partner institution, who sends one of their students back to IU to have a summer internship while working with an IU faculty member on joint research.

Indiana University-Minority Serving Institutions (IU-MSI) STEM

“This initiative is a model that can be replicated across the country that would help the diversity pipeline throughout academe, in research internships, and through the Department of Navy, as they seek to diversify their workforce. When I talk with Anthony Smith, who is the Department of Navy HBCU/MI program officer, he is very excited about this model being replicable and getting other universities doing similar things to help diversify the pipeline across the country,” Schmit went on to say. “IU is well-positioned to help our partner institutions in expanding this pipeline. It doesn’t mean others can’t do this or haven’t done this, but right now, when you think of Indiana University and our openness in working across institutional boundaries and to help broaden participation, our president, Michael A. McRobbie and of course, Adam Herbert—our previous president who started this initiative—their combined commitment to this project has established a sustainable model worth emulating.”