RIT to build national STEM diversity alliance

The Access Network focuses on physics programs

Corey Ptak

Rochester Institute of Technology is using a $270,225 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish an alliance among independent diversity programs at universities across the country to improve equity and community in physics education.

The Access Network seeks to increase the graduation rate of traditionally underrepresented physics majors. This alliance of campus-based diversity programs at six universities will support retention and representation in physics and facilitate the sharing of ideas among the institutions.

Founding members include RIT, University of California Berkeley, the University of Colorado Boulder, University of Maryland, College Park, Chicago State University and Arizona State University. UC California Berkeley’s nationally recognized Compass Project inspired evidence-based methods used in summer programs for incoming first-year students, learning communities and introductory courses that promote active engagement.

The network of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs are tailored to particular student populations at member sites across the country. RIT’s IMPRESS (Integrating Metacognitive Practices and Research to Ensure Student Success) program, for instance, is geared toward students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and/or first-generation college students.

“Diversity of gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability and age in STEM is very important because it creates a diversity of thought and experience that can move science forward,” said Corey Ptak, coordinator of IMPRESS and lecturer in RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Science. “Without these new ideas science would stagnate.”

The Access Network differs from other programs because it focuses on student agency, he added.

“We seek to create a system where student voices are heard with equal weight to the voices of faculty and staff,” Ptak said. “Where every voice is heard, respected and considered. STEM has a lot to gain from diversity, but at its core it’s about equity. Each program in Access does not run a program for the students—we run it with the students.”

The IMPRESS program is part of RIT’s CASTLE, the Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning and Evaluation. CASTLE is a multidisciplinary scholarship center housed in RIT’s College of Science. It offers support to faculty interested in STEM curriculum development, assessment and discipline-based STEM education research.

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