2022 CBS DEIJ microgrants

The college awarded funds for 17 proposals in varying amounts totaling more than $75,000 provided by the CBS Dean’s Office. The grants will support projects across the college that advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. The awards support efforts across departments and include programs and projects led by graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and staff. Read descriptions below.

Field Guides: Student mentoring and career development program

Team: Megan Wilcots, Amy Waananen, Molly Kuhs, Maggie Anderson, Maria Park, and Alyssa Gooding

Field Guides is a graduate-student-run group housed in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota focused on providing mentorships and professional development for students interested in ecology-related fields. Nationally, ecology and environmental-based programs lag behind other STEM disciplines in both recruitment and retention of BIPOC students. One-on-one mentorship has been shown to be a universally positive way to increase both retention and diversity in biology and thus, Field Guides specifically focuses on connecting students from historically excluded backgrounds with graduate student mentors who share similar identities. To date, we have organized 170 unique one-on-one mentoring pairings, hosted 12 professional development seminars, and compiled free and accessible online resources and “how-to” guides for navigating academia. With this funding, Field Guides will continue with this work and broaden our mentorship offerings, increase our recruitment breadth, and establish connections and partnerships with other groups across the college to become a more permanent staple in the CBS community.

Bringing Native perspective to the MN Ecology Walk

Team: Caitlin Potter and Savanna Henning

Since 2018, staff and scientists at the College of Biological Sciences’ Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve have partnered with the St. Francis Area Schools' American Indian Education (AIE) staff to jointly offer programming that integrates both western and indigenous science perspectives to approximately 135 students across five schools in the local school district. These collaborative programs, paid for by donations and grant funding, are free to the students and schools involved, demonstrate that science can be a diverse and welcoming field, and emphasize that students need not abandon their culture in pursuit of knowledge. In 2022 and beyond, Cedar Creek will expand this partnership to more deeply and permanently impact both the Cedar Creek / CBS community and our Native partners by using DEIJ microgrant funding to create signage and learning resources about the plants on Cedar Creek’s new MN Ecology Walk, an accessible public trail near our main building. These materials, which may include physical booklets, online StoryMaps, and other resources in addition to permanent signage, will include Native plant names alongside western common and scientific names, information about traditional and contemporary uses and opportunities for art and creative expression. The DEIJ grant funding will allow Cedar Creek to compensate two part-time high school interns selected by the AIE program to collaborate with Cedar Creek on these materials during the summer of 2022, offer honoraria for two Dakota and Anishinaabe elders providing linguistic and cultural knowledge to the student interns and assist with the cost of fabricating the trail signs.

Teaching about fresh water at Cedar Creek

Team: Beatriz Baselga Cervera and Caitlin Potter

Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, represents a unique opportunity to interact and learn from its water bodies. However, visitors to state parks and outdoor parks in the Twin Cities are predominantly white. This dual-purpose project seeks to create a permanent feature of programming within Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) focus on freshwater bodies, as well as remove transportation barriers for UMN graduates and postdocs to collaborate with CCESR outreach initiatives. By targeting schools with predominantly underrepresented demographics, we aim to invite families and communities from underrepresented demographics to engage in outdoor activities.

Expansion of Grass-Roots Advancement of STEM Professions (GRASP) MN Program

Team: Kelly Aukema, Beverly Smith-Keiling, and BMBB DEI committee

The goal of this program is to build relationships to increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented individuals in STEMM majors and to increase conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within CBS to strengthen our community. In fall 2021, the Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics DEI committee began a pilot program aimed to help first-generation, college-bound students at Heritage E-STEM Middle School in West St. Paul, described in a CBS blog post “Sparking Science Joy.” Thirty 8th grade students visited the UMN St. Paul campus for hands-on learning activities in four CBS research labs. This CBS microgrant allows us to expand the annual program to three additional middle schools with a high percentage of underrepresented students including Washington Technical Magnet School in St. Paul, to bring more students to UMN campus and expand the number of labs they can explore.

Mentorship, DEI, and science workshops in area high schools

Team: Adam Sychla, Sharon Murphy and Beverly Smith-Keiling

This CBS service-learning course is designed to 1) teach undergraduate students skill sets for effective and inclusive mentorship; 2) connect high school students in underserved communities to resources that enable post-secondary education; and 3) encourage STEMM career paths for high school students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. The class will culminate with undergraduate students directing on-site/hands-on biology experiments performed by the high school students in underserved areas. The engagement is designed to promote near-peer mentorship, making post-secondary education more attainable and accessible for underrepresented minorities.

Co-mentoring Community-building (CoCo Café)

Lead: Beverly Smith-Keiling

Our “Co-mentoring Community-building (CoCo Café)” aims to diversify voices throughout our systemic change process toward STEMM diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ). This community-based approach strives to broaden engagement, stakeholder buy-in, ownership, meaning, purpose, and to empower all voices. We bring those with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions together by specifically recruiting undergraduate and graduate students who identify as having a marginalized voice. As we meet, CoCo Café participants recognize identities, personal narratives, and perspectives in meeting our needs in STEMM from an antiracist and cultural wellness approach. This process develops common understandings of deeper levels of historical culture and peoplehood away from dominant institutional constructs. These dialogues are the glue holding us together through change and evolving mindsets to address antiracism and inform leadership design teams in DEIJ.

Setting a foundation for sustainable JEDI advancement in genetic counseling and beyond

Team: Heather Zierhut and Abrahm Neuser

The University of Minnesota Genetic Counseling Program (UMNGCP) will be utilizing DEIJ Microgrant funds to bolster holistic DEIJ efforts within the genetic counseling program and across the wider College of Biological Sciences community. The first component is funding a grad student-led DEIJ Learning Circle featuring structured discussions about a topic that explores DEIJ applications in the genetics field. The second aspect will be supporting a graduate student-led Community Building Circle wherein students come together to foster bonds around emergent DEIJ issues. The third facet is supporting the UMNGCP new Instructional Lead in examining curriculum and harnessing student perspectives in supporting the creation of representative curricula with DEIJ interwoven. This curriculum will then be widely shared. The final DEIJ feature enabled by the microgrant is an educational event on community-driven, participatory research with underserved communities with a focus to tackle cancer health disparities and inequities.

Research experiences for underrepresented undergraduates

Team: Jan Kucinski, Janelle Bazurto and Anahi Cantoran

This project will provide an invaluable research experience, professional development mentorship, and monetary compensation to a small cohort of underrepresented undergraduate students from local colleges and universities during the summer of 2022. Students will participate in a research project to identify beneficial plant bacteria that improve growth of their plant hosts, with potential application in sustainable agriculture. This project is an exciting chance for students to experience basic science with society-impacting outcomes, such as improved food production and security. We will isolate and characterize natural bacterial strains from field-grown corn, the most important crop in Minnesota, pennycress, and soybean plants at different times of the growing season. We will utilize resources provided by the DEIJ microgrant to provide three, eight-week-long stipends. We hope that such opportunities will encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue STEM careers, possibly remaining in academia, ultimately leading to greater diversity in the scientific community.

Examining gender in science

Team: Ian MacFarlane/GCD DEI Committee

The Genetics, Cell Biology and Development Department’s DEI Committee will focus our efforts in the 2022-23 academic year on the role of gender in science. Fall semester will be focused on women in science and our project will be to facilitate discussions of the documentary Picture a Scientist. This film explores the lives of three women who have overcome barriers on the way to highly successful careers. Learning about the obstacles big and small, individual and systemic, will help our CBS community better assess our own environment and think about ways to bring more equity to the scientific community at large. We will offer streaming access to the film, followed by a large group meeting to hear from one of the scientists from the film and guides for further conversations among smaller groups (e.g., labs, student organizations, departments). Additional programming will follow to build on the momentum from this exciting event.

Developmental Biology Center Undergraduate Summer Research Scholarship

Team: Hiroshi Nakato/DBC Steering Committee

The Developmental Biology Center (DBC), one of the largest and most comprehensive centers of developmental biology research in the world, promotes a vigorous collaborative research and training environment for researchers and students. A unique strength of the DBC is its growing number of members outside the U of M Twin Cities campus. They come from institutions in the Twin Cities area that have significantly more underrepresented minority (URM) students than we do. We will provide highly qualified URM students at these institutions with an “Undergraduate Summer Research Scholarship” to conduct a summer research project through a collaboration between U of M DBC members in CBS as hosts and non-U of M collaborators. This program will strengthen the CBS community by expanding representational diversity and enhancing a welcoming environment within CBS and DBC. Additional goals of this program are to promote collaborations among DBC, increase the number of URM students in developmental biology research, introduce highly talented students to research opportunities at the U of M, and increase the likelihood that top URM students will apply to the U of M’s graduate programs.

CBS LGBTQ+ student experience in learning sex, gender, and reproduction

Team: Kelly Lane and Sarah Malmquist

LGBTQ+ students make up more than 25 percent of the CBS student population. However, biology classrooms can be challenging environments for these students when they are confronted with content that may not align with their own personal experiences and may “other” them, especially in topics such as sex determination, sexual selection, reproductive behavior and anatomy, and genetics. Although there is some research into best practices for inclusive teaching of the biology of sex, gender and reproduction, LGBTQ+ students report significant negative experiences in biology courses and faculty struggle to identify ways to change their course materials to be more inclusive. Our goal is to conduct a focus group with LGBTQ+ students in CBS to uncover students’ experiences in the CBS classes, specifically relating to how sex, gender and reproduction were taught in these courses. The primary outcome of this project will be a report that we will compile based on the responses from focus group participants. It will include information from education research publications about considerations for teaching sex, gender, and reproduction in biology courses and will be focused on what CBS faculty are doing, and can do, to improve the experiences of queer students in their courses.

Intergenerational workshop for Dakota wicoḣ’aƞ of tatanka/pte knowledge at Cedar Creek

Team: Iyekiyapiwin Darlene St. Clair/Dakota Wicohan

Dakota Wicohan is a Native-led educational nonprofit organization based in Morton, Minnesota, near the Upper and Lower Sioux Communities. Our mission is to revitalize Dakota as a living language, and through it, transmit Dakota lifeways to future generations. This project is a partnership between Dakota Wicohan and Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, which is one of two biological field stations in the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences (CBS). Through this project, Cedar Creek will host a traditional buffalo butchering and processing workshop conducted by Dakota elders and invite youth and others from the Dakota Communities in Minnesota to give them the opportunity to learn these important cultural practices. The relationship to tatanka/pte is critical for maintaining proper balance and sustenance within Dakota homelands. Passing down these practices between generations is particularly critical in a time of climate crisis when traditional environmental knowledges offer vital lessons to us all.

BIOL1009 Learning Assistants

Team: Brian Gibbens and Cheryl Scott

In BIOL1009, DFW rates are disproportionately high among underrepresented minority, transfer student, and first-generation student populations. To address these issues and to help all students succeed, our DEI micro-grant will be used to create a new BIOL1009 Learning Assistant (LA) position. BIOL1009 LAs will help both students and instructors to maximize student performance. Four LAs working 5-10 hours per week will perform a variety of roles including: 1) monitoring student progress/performance, 2) emailing students who are missing assignments or have declining performance, 3) determining which learning objectives or course assignments that students are struggling with, and 4) surveying students to solicit their background knowledge and their ideas for course improvements. LAs will also be responsible for providing tutoring as needed.

Expansion of Queer Science programming

Team: Queer Science: Maheemah Bokhoree, Ryan Leighton, Riley Lewis, Lee Penn, Rachel Tenney, Allison Wong, Haleigh Ziebol

Queer Science is a first-of-its-kind program to specifically provide outreach to LGBTQIA+ high school students to encourage interest in STEM fields and provide support for pursuing higher education in these areas. Our primary events are “Queer Science Days” which bring local high school students to UMN for a full day of hands-on experiments and panel discussions with LGBTQIA+ graduate student, post-doc, faculty, and staff volunteers. The CBS DEIJ microgrant will also enable us to expand our programming to include stand-alone workshops on mycology and the college application process. Queer Science helps facilitate access to undergraduate education in CBS for underrepresented LGBTQIA+ students. Queer Science also strengthens community among LGBTQIA+ members of CBS and amplifies their voices.

Supporting teaching assistants in LGBTQ+ Inclusive Teaching of Biology

Team: Kristina Prescott and Sarah Malmquist

LGBTQ+ students report that college biology courses ignore diverse sexual identities, making them reluctant to pursue majors like biology and more likely to rank STEM fields as less welcoming. While college biology courses can include accurate and inclusive teaching of topics involving sex, gender and reproduction, they may also inaccurate information about diverse gender and sexual identities, or no information at all. For some students, non-majors biology courses may be their last exposure to these topics in academic settings; TAs for many non-majors biology courses offered in CBS are motivated to relate to and engage diverse students in learning about biology, thus providing them with the background knowledge and training they need to create welcoming environments for LGBTQ+ students would have a meaningful impact.

In the summer of 2022, we plan to host a half-day workshop from Project Biodiversify on inclusive teaching of sex, gender and reproduction, which will be open to the CBS community. We will then use the information from the workshop to revise course materials for two large, non-majors biology courses (BIOL1003 and BIOL1012) to reflect best practices in inclusive teaching as it relates to diverse sexual identities. We will also develop training materials for new TAs on these best practices, which will complement their current training. After piloting these training materials in BIOL1003 and BIOL1012, we plan to revise and distribute them broadly to TAs for several CBS courses.

Transportation accessibility for CBS Researchers at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Team: Maria Park and Mariana Cardenas

Immersive research opportunities are valuable to members at all levels of the CBS community. Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) serves as a key CBS field station located approximately 40 miles north of the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, due to the distance between CCESR and the Twin Cities, the station has not been readily accessible to members of the CBS community who do not own vehicles. We aim to make access to CCESR more equitable for researchers in the CBS community by promoting sustainable carpooling options. We will 1) create a channel on a widely used communication platform (e.g., Slack) for researchers who are willing to give and receive carpool rides to/from CCESR, and 2) reimburse carpool drivers with DEIJ funds. This will be a pilot program to test a viable option for long-term transportation options for CBS researchers, addressing and supporting Action Items 10, 15, and 16 of the CBS Anti-Racism Work Group Recommendations.

Exploring the historical and contemporary relationship between STEM fields and social issues

Team: CBS Student Board

The goal of this project is to raise awareness of the historical and contemporary relationship between STEM fields and social issues. Our goal is to challenge faculty and students to think more systematically about the ways in which STEM fields contribute to systemic inequities and further, how they can drive social change to create a more equitable environment. Ultimately, our goal is to create an environment built upon empathy and community - one in which all students and faculty feel they belong and have an opportunity to succeed. To accomplish these goals, the CBS Student Board will host multiple speaker events focused on the medical and scientific community's relationship to various social issues. Discussions will have a specific focus on systemic racism while also considering discrimination on the basis of gender, class, and sexuality. We seek to raise individual awareness on the complex social issues that underlie the ways in which we teach and participate in biological sciences so as to promote individual and collective action toward creating a more accepting and equitable campus environment.