Lead, Collaborate, and Engage
Identify a leader (or leadership team) who can devote the time and energy to move along the collective effort
While a faculty member can be the Principal Investigator (PI), the president, provost and senior administrators need to understand the purpose of the project and discuss the complexities, and weigh together the various barriers that might impact the outcome (including cost-share, staff time, and other resources). The seniority of the faculty member can be important, as is his or her reputation and track record. The PI serves as a mediator at times, but the team as a whole needs flexibility and a commitment to moving forward the project.
The early zealots and institutional leaders for the Grinnell Science Project planned the project, wrote numerous grant proposals, organized institutional discussions and were among the first to implement change. However, there was attrition when two became academic administrators at Grinnell and at another institution and one became a fund-raiser. Those remaining planned an effective process of gradually bringing on interested faculty members who were outside the initial process, but who were interested, mentoring them, and then getting out of the way so that the newer individuals had the opportunity to become leaders. By ten years into the project, none of the original leaders were still in their roles and a number of new individuals had risen to various levels of leadership. By fifteen years the roster of leadership and faculty participants in our pre-orientation program was filled by faculty members who had not been at the college when the program started. This ensured that the program did not depend upon a small group of zealots, and that the program was not ossified by the original vision.
However, long-term sustainability must depend not only on the committed and inspirational initial leaders but on broadening the leadership pool. That can include intentional mentoring and support for those who will be leaders beyond the initial few. That can include succession planning for the formal leaders, as well as buy-in for changes so that others get engaged in broader adaption or adoption of changes.
Without buy-in and commitment of all people who will be impacted across all appropriate functions, projects often hit unexpected roadblocks, and progress is limited.
Early in the morning on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. Flooding of every building on campus and nearly every neighborhood in New Orleans caused by levee breaches forced evacuation and closure of the school for the entire Fall 2005 semester. When Xavier opened its doors in January 2006, almost 75% of the freshman "Katrina" class of 2005 chose to return to Xavier over family concerns and existing difficulties; a clear testimony of its excellence in the sciences and all undergraduate programs. This tragedy was used to rebuild the entire campus. In the biology department, faculty (most living in trailers) willingly undertook overloads while systematically determining the needs of both faculty and students. The latter included making teaching and research space functional, hiring faculty with specific areas of expertise, curricular reforms, and a range of strategies for improving/enhancing recruitment and retention. With strong support from all levels of administration, institution-wide changes moved at a remarkable pace and the results were quite amazing. True buy-in and commitment from all participants was instrumental in delivering such positive outcomes.
At Bryn Mawr College, efforts to increase computational skills in physics succeeded only as a joint project between the departments of physics and computer science.
To fully engage stakeholders, advocates and team members need leadership's formal endorsement, and then access to resources to make a comprehensive plan to support the ideas. The team needs to be trusted to move forward, and not micromanaged. Budget constraints must be reviewed openly and resolved clearly. The leader needs to ask for input from faculty and others across campus, and build engagement over time.
Trying to get everyone on board is not required, but be sure key departments/faculty/administrators are all part of early discussions. Attempts should be made to bring along faculty who are less enthusiastic. The team should make efforts to understand and address all faculty concerns. Acceptance of barriers—including financial—beyond the scope of the project team is critical, as is openness to jump in and solve problems and embrace opportunities and ideas as they arise.
Departments are king at Carleton. For example, all Carleton students must complete a senior integrative exercise to graduate, but how that is done is entirely determined by departments. That is, most (if not all?) departmental decisions are driven by faculty. The same goes for how and what we teach, research expectations, and how space is allocated and shared (or not). So, if the dean and development office write a proposal to make something happen on campus without consulting faculty, it is doomed to fail, or at best only affect a small number of people. Our early proposals to HHMI (1980s) were largely driven using a top-down approach. It became increasingly clear, especially in the early 2000s, that in order to achieve true institutional change, a new bottom-up approach was needed. This started with the formation of the "science board" consisting of all science and math department chairs, and anyone else who self-identified as interested in moving the needle on the types of resources we could bring to the college to help improve teaching and research. This includes key players in the development office, institutional research, and one of the academic deans. The board helps to identify (through lengthy discussions and with people coming and going) the key curricular and research goals the faculty (and therefore the college) want to achieve as we move forward.
Plan for the time-sustained effort necessary to create lasting change
Institutional discussions about the project must have realistic timelines. Project planning and implementation should be recognized as central responsibilities of the individuals involved, especially the leader. The leader serves as a campus-wide advocate who must be fully committed to see the project through all stages. Projects can lose momentum without an advocate willing to invest a tremendous amount of personal time and energy to keep to project going. Long-term sustainability depends not only on the committed and inspirational initial leaders but on broadening the leadership pool. Initial leaders can think ahead and provide mentoring for others, including formal succession planning, so that others get engaged and participate in broader adoption of changes over time.
The HHMI Program at Spelman has morphed over time from a program that primarily supported the efforts of one department (biology) to a program that supports initiatives in multiple STEM disciplines as well as the behavioral sciences. Due to increased interest by faculty from other departments in adopting some of the initiatives instituted in biology, funds that initially supported faculty development, student research, and curriculum development in biology were eventually directed toward other disciplines. The most recent iteration of the program is now very interdisciplinary and offers development and research opportunities for faculty and students from multiple departments. This was due to the earlier HHMI leadership inviting faculty from multiple departments to have input into developing the framework and activities proposed in the most recently funded grant.
Pilot the project to demonstrate feasibility
The industry model also works in academia. But, in addition, the culture of an institution is always relevant and must be taken into account as projects are planned. Pilot studies can provide valuable data which can then be evaluated to determine how well the approach fits the overarching goal of the project.
In many ways, every project initiated under the banner of the the Hughes Science Pipeline Project began as a pilot. The research internship program serves as a good example. At the inception of Barnard's HHMI-funded program, the college had limited and only intermittently available resources to fund summer research internships in faculty labs. Support from HHMI created a stable foundation for the program, allowing us to offer internships to as many as sixteen students each summer. Assessment data revealed that it was a huge success, and when the current provost assumed her role in 2012, she chose to make summer research internships in science a signature program at the college. The provost managed to bring together sufficient funds from a variety of sources to support 120 students. The college has now secured endowed funds to support the Summer Research Institute, which provides compensation and summer housing to a large number of students each year. As a second example, support from HHMI allowed the biology department to offer supplemental instruction to students in the introductory courses. The peer-led sessions focused on strategies for learning biology rather than on the content of the courses. The program has been a big success, as revealed by student satisfaction surveys and analyses of the impact of participation on student learning outcomes. It has continued with funding from other foundations and operating funds.
Review program data throughout the project
In order to track progress, the team should understand the initial data and participate in regular assessment meetings. Key data should be communicated to all relevant stakeholders because honest discussions of progress, and lack of progress, are critical to set the stage for needed adjustments to the project's strategies and structure.
The FACES program (Fostering a Community of Excellence in Science) at Hope College began as a pilot project in 2010. The mission of the program is to support and retain students underrepresented in STEM fields who are pursuing STEM degrees at Hope. This program began by finding external experts to help design the program and seeking broad buy-in by the Hope community. However, perhaps most importantly, data was collected from the very first day that would help to not only improve the program, but demonstrate the value.
Communicate clearly and regularly—Be visible
Communication should happen broadly within and across science disciplines, as well as with academic administrators, student advisers, and admissions team, and fund-raisers. Getting the word out—especially as progress accumulates—is an important part of building buy-in and beginning to change the culture across the entire campus.
Communicating with the broad audience of science faculty about recent course-based research experiences pilots has helped to propel interest in expanding these opportunities for our students.