Initial Publication Date: April 1, 2016

Be Strategic

Effective institutional change depends upon recognizing and assessing existing institutional resources—financial, physical, equipment, and personnel—as well as carefully considering potential barriers or constraints to implementing change. Setting reasonable goals for the design and implementation of STEM programs can only be done in the context of each institution's strategic plan and a careful evaluation of available resources. A strategic approach to institutional change will build upon past programmatic successes, engage faculty leaders, and involve students, faculty and staff in the implementation. Finally, clearly communicating the programmatic design and goals throughout the community will help sustain change and ensure longer-term funding of initiatives. Various approaches to these issues appear below.

Link Initiatives to Institutional Strategic Plan

Projects that have a broad institutional impact need to tie into the institutional mission and also respond to the environment and culture of the institution. Projects that are not part of a strategic plan are less likely to be prioritized within the operating budget, and are therefore less likely to be sustained. For instance, an institution with an increasing number of first-generation college students may feel the need for different kinds of student support as students transition to college. Also, remember that institutional planning is cyclical in nature and usually happens on a predictable timeline. Thinking ahead can allow these cycles to used as opportunities to shape institutional priorities. For this and other main points below we include examples from our institutions. In many cases there is a link to additional information on the institution's capstone profile.

Bryn Mawr College
Although Bryn Mawr College adopted use of the Internet as a teaching resource in the early 1990s, lack of institutional buy-in and support for appropriate leadership meant that it was not until 2010 that technology in the classroom became an institutional priority with dedicated resources.
Smith College
Science faculty recently completed a strategic plan that endorsed four strategic directions for the future, with the goal of cultivating the scientist in the next generation of women leaders so they can meet the challenges of our world. This plan is well aligned with the college's mission and has helped to inform recent college-wide strategic planning processes.

Recognize Institutional Strengths, Capacities, Infrastructure, Constraints, Cultures, and Barriers

In all cases, the details of how a program evolves are fundamentally dependent on recognizing each institution's context and history. Specifically, what financial resources are available, how does the physical plant and equipment support student inquiry, what are the demands on faculty time, what programs have been successful, and what is the tradition of student/faculty interaction.

Bryn Mawr College
In the late 2000s, the demographics of Bryn Mawr's student body began to change to include more students with marginal mathematics preparation. To ensure a quantitative literacy among our graduates we instituted a "quantitative requirement" for all of our students and a supplementary course designed to assist students entering gateway STEM courses. The initial results of these changes were mixed and required several modifications before they began to produce real results.

Design Interrelated Programs that Serve Multiple Ends

Program elements do not address issues such as persistence, developing inquiry skills, and interdisciplinary learning in isolation. Similarly, multiple elements work together to support each goal. In all cases, the details of how the program evolves are dependent on the institutional context and history (e.g. what are the long-standing successful programs; traditions of student interaction; existing equipment and physical plant, etc.).

Swarthmore College
In May 2013, a student protest broke out just before graduation that led to an uptick in organized conversations about inclusive community on campus. The deeply held convictions and compelling presentation by student protesters of their lived experience prompted several small groups of faculty members to initiate curricular innovations that would articulate and address unmet needs. Catalyzed by these powerful student narratives, the Biology Scholars Program and the Summer Scholars Program, together with a preexisting Math Scholars Program, aim to build bridges among and within natural science departments and to serve the students in the full scope of work undertaken at a liberal arts college.
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College has combined the existing resources of the offices of Career and Professional Development and Civic Engagement into the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC), which now provides access to experiential learning, career and professional development, and civic engagement under a single structure, improving student access to these resources.
Barnard College
Facilitating the entry of our students into authentic research has been a hallmark of Barnard's Hughes Science Pipeline Project (HSPP) since its inception. HHMI funding has supported a cohort of year-long research interns who work with faculty in all science departments; four students from each cohort of community college students who complete the Intercollegiate Partnership's summer program also work as summer research interns for ten weeks. Over time, we have added enhancements that are designed to attract and introduce first-year and sophomore students to the research enterprise.
Hope College
The new Hope Day1 program brings together the lessons learned from prior programs that Hope faculty and staff have developed over the years. The goal is to provide a coherent program that supports the development of future STEM professionals from their first day on campus until graduation. The program was developed with input from all areas of campus (admissions, student development, residential life, multicultural education and academics) and still requires close communication with all parties in order to be sustained. As the pilot year is progressing, current students, mentors and staff regularly provide feedback to improve the program, and a comprehensive assessment plan is in place in order to determine if the program is meeting the goals set forth at the beginning.

Coordinate with Development and Sponsored Programs Staff

Starting with external grant funding helps not only to fund start-up efforts, but forces you to focus and articulate goals, approach, etc. It helps to design a strategy so that grant funds gradually provide less funding and other funds (reallocation of institutional funds through standard budget processes, an endowment gift, etc.) gradually become more important. It is often hard to keep a project going when a grant that has supported the project fully for several years comes to an end, and all of a sudden internal funds are needed to replace the grant.

Barnard College
The Hughes Science Pipeline Project provided Barnard with the opportunity to pilot programs offering both supplemental instruction and early research experiences to students. These models have been refined over the years, and Barnard now has several new programs, including the ten-week Summer Research Institute (SRI) and a bridge program for incoming students interested in the sciences who are either first-generation or from minority groups underrepresented in the sciences.

Identify Institutional Champions

When launching a new initiative, make investments carefully. Involve the people you think have the best chance for success. Try to move the metrics that you think will have the best chance of gaining traction more broadly.

Barnard College
When biology faculty at Barnard wanted to engage students more deeply in research on genomics and bioinformatics, three members of the department volunteered to develop the Manduca Functional Genomics Curriculum. John Glendinning, an expert on gustatory and olfactory physiology, brought his long experience working with Manduca sensory physiology to the project. Brian Morton, an expert in genetics and bioinformatics, developed the protocols for isolating and characterizing the relevant genes in Manduca. Jennifer Mansfield, a expert in developmental biology, developed protocols using RNAi and other techniques to alter the expression genes the students had identified. Working together, these three faculty established an integrated curriculum that combines the study of behavior, genetics, bioinformatics, changing gene expression, and using physiological assays to determine the functional effects of changes in gene expression. The curriculum is taught as part of the introductory biology lab and five advanced biology laboratory courses; many students also pursue guided research on the topic.
Hope College
In 2005, Hope science faculty initiated a computational science and modeling program with the intention of creating a minor that would complement any major of the student's choice. This new laboratory was intended to help students understand and predict the behavior of complex systems with experimental and observational data. A systems manager was hired to run a new computer cluster and database server and to provide broad access and support to faculty in both teaching and research. In addition, the program had faculty directors from two departments working together to establish the academic program. Although many faculty across disciplines were enthusiastic and implemented computational modeling units in their courses, and significant energy was invested in facilitating the founding of the program, it lacked a champion to institutionalize the curriculum changes. A couple of faculty continue to use computational modeling in their courses and research; however the program did not take off as was intended to be a minor, or even an emphasis.

Identify External Champions

Discussing interesting and successful similar projects to yours helps you figure out what you might do and how you can do it, and it lends credibility to the efforts. Most importantly, since curricular and pedagogical problems have been addressed at other institutions, finding out where and how can serve as a catalyst to your planning.

Hope College
Jeanne Narum and Project Kaleidoscope were external champions for Hope STEM programs and faculty for many years. Narum and Project Kaleidoscope provided support and resources to help faculty as they developed new programs and courses as they developed as leaders in STEM education. They also provided credibility to the administration for the work of the faculty and staff in these efforts. In 1994, Project Kaleidoscope recognized Hope's Natural and Applied Science programs as a "Whole Program that Works" and also selected several young faculty members to participate in the "Faculty for the 21st Century Network".

Seek Faculty, Staff, and Student Buy-In

Identifying the mutual benefits for all involved can leverage change across the institution. Moving successful activities from one department to another helps buy-in.

Smith College
Faculty who had experience and success piloting course-based research experiences became articulate proponents of this pedagogical approach and have led conversations that helped to persuade other faculty within their departments and across the sciences that this model is viable and rewarding.

Take the Long View

Institutional change is rarely linear and occurs in response to experimentation and student/faculty interactions. Creating an environment where programmatic experimentation is encouraged and rewarded is essential. Programs that lead to institutional change will evolve over time by adding and changing elements in response to emerging student needs and challenges, and sometimes to other changes such as new leadership. The most successful programs will adapt to lessons learned over time. Promoting a long view fosters experimentation and creativity, and it offers a continuous opportunity for refinement. This is often necessary, since success can in itself lead to challenges in scaling up.

Smith College
The faculty's investment in course-based research experiences grew out of more than fifty years of success for our summer research fellowship program as well as our faculty research labs, propelled by resource strain related to scaling up these highly valued opportunities for all of our students.

Encourage faculty and staff to identify elements of successful programs that can then be transferred to other disciplines and even to other institutions.

Spelman College
The biology department launched a broad-scale curriculum reform in 2006. This novel skills-based curriculum is cutting-edge and distinct from biology programs elsewhere based on 1) its four-semester-long introductory core; 2) its focus on skills development in the course of the introductory core; and 3) its adaptation of student-centered active learning pedagogies in all classes including use of studio-based classes, use of clickers in all required courses . After building the curriculum, the department focused on developing a culture of research. Since the department identified this as a priority in 2008, faculty members have developed over a dozen courses that involve research. This has resulted in a complete transformation in the learning experience of students. Whereas only some 30–40% of students used to leave with an authentic research experience, now more than 70% of the students leave with a research experience and in fact most of the students even present at the college.

The biology department's experience has served as an example for other departments to incorporate inquiry-based pedagogies and course-based research experiences. Spelman now has an Undergraduate Research Capstone program which requires all Spelman students to have a research experience.


Expanding the Impact of your Program
As a part of InTeGrate's professional development efforts, the project is reprising this webinar on creating institutional and curricular change. This webinar helped faculty design a plan to support departmental/institutional change including aspects such as aligning effort with institutional priorities, making use of assets that already exist, and engaging other stakeholders in the efforts. The webinar was facilitated by Judith Ramaley, President Emerita at Winona State University and President Emerita and Distinguished Professor of Public Service at Portland State University. Dr. Ramaley is a member of the InTeGrate advisory board and has published extensively on educational reform, science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, and the leadership of organizational change. This page hosts recordings of the webinar for general viewing.