2023 CBS DEIJ microgrants

The college awarded funds for 15 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.

Revising the genetics curriculum 
This project will focus on a handful of common genetics learning objectives used throughout introductory and upper-division courses. Research shows that the standard way of teaching genetics reinforces the misconception that race is genetic. This project will revise these shared learning objectives, identify pre-class resources, in-class activities, and assessment questions, which will be explicitly anti-racist and biologically accurate. These products will be utilized in microgrant group members' courses and will be assessed for impact on student beliefs and understanding. The products of this work will be publicly available for use by any instructor. 

Tribal Food Sovereignty Student Summit
The Tribal Food Sovereignty Student Summit will allow students from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds to explore inclusive, human-centered solutions to global challenges around sustainability, food sovereignty, and the integration of indigenous knowledge systems in academic settings. Students from the College of Biological Sciences, White Earth Tribal and Community College, and the Institute on the Environment’s Sustainability Education program will learn from subject matter experts, share resources and perspectives from their research and lived experience, and participate in a design-thinking workshop to identify challenges and opportunities related to sustainability, food security, and Tribal Food Sovereignty.

Dr. Aisha Harris campus visit
Dr. Aisha Harris is a Black female family care physician living in Flint, Michigan working to promote health literacy and access in her community. In addition to running a website, newsletter, and podcast devoted to informing people about health, Dr. Harris opened Harris Family Health, Flint’s first Direct Primary Care clinic in January 2023. Dr. Harris will offer two events for CBS students. The first, which is open to all students, will be a seminar/talk style event where Dr. Harris will discuss health equity and creative ways to meet community needs when it comes to healthcare and health education. The second event will offer a more targeted experience for BIPOC students focused on supporting them in their own healthcare journeys.

Culturally responsive environmental education programming
Indigenous communities across Minnesota have a long history of engagement with environmental conservation and sustainability, yet most of the science that traditionally informs Minnesota's approach to water conservation does not include Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. As part of recent revamping of the Minnesota State Science Standards, students are expected to meet a number of new benchmarks related to MN Tribes & communities, but few teachers have been adequately prepared to instruct their students on these topics. This collaborative effort between the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Bemidji State University and University of Minnesota will unite multidisciplinary scientists with teachers and students to promote environmental literacy and intercultural understanding. Through culturally responsive environmental education programming, we will engage with 10 Minnesota teachers in practices that emphasize sustaining tribal heritage practices alongside scientific advancement, reaching more than 1,000 students.

Combining and sustaining BMBB DEI initiatives 
Using the “Co-mentoring Community-building (CoCo Café) model,” this project aims to solidify the department’s initiatives emphasizing a community-based approach toward anti-racist change by increasing stakeholder buy-in, meaning and purpose. Following rapid DEIJ initiatives from the CBS BMBB DEI committee, we strive to diversify voices in our systemic change process. As our CBS participants engage in outreach projects, we reach inward seeking to learn about ourselves from a cultural wellness approach. Our projects outreach to Heritage E-STEM Middle School and Washington Technical Magnet School in St. Paul. GRASP is our Grass-Roots Advancement in STEM Professions outreach program bringing STEM magnet middle school students on campus to experience science first-hand in three St. Paul campus labs. Learn & Serve DEI Mentoring engages CBS undergraduates in near-peer mentorship directing on-site/hands-on biology experiments performed by the high school students at Washington Tech. By examining how our efforts increase conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within our community, the focus of our CoCo Café discussions help navigate how engagement improves our own evolving mindsets toward growth and further sustains our DEIJ efforts.

Increasing exposure to computer science 
The world is rapidly digitizing, and digital infrastructure is being increasingly incorporated in a variety of careers and applications. As we move into a computerized future, the ability to understand and utilize computers becomes paramount. However, many students do not have access to a school computer science education at all. In fact, according to the 2020 State of CS Report, less than half of all U.S. high schools incorporated computer science into their curricula. As a result, many students are not graduating with exposure to or the skill set of introductory coding. Our goal is to help spread interest in computer science in Twin Cities schools that do not have pre-existing computer science components in their STEM curricula. We also aim to develop a free and easily accessible set of computer science and coding instructional material for use in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. This CBS microgrant enables us to establish our program, develop and expand the aforementioned set of instructional materials, and organize events for students to learn about and develop a passion for computer science and STEM.

CCESR MN Ecology Walk audio guides AIE collaboration 
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 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, Cedar Creek expanded 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. The new signage includes Native plant names alongside western common and scientific names, and information about traditional and contemporary uses. In 2023, both Cedar Creek and our AIE partners would love to build on last summer’s successes. One piece of feedback we have already received is that an audio guide to the trail would enhance accessibility and provide a richer experience for visitors unfamiliar with Dakota and Ojibwe pronunciation. This microgrant will allow us to recruit a pair of high school interns and offer honoraria for Dakota and Anishinaabe elders to create a multi-sensory experience on the MN Ecology Walk. 

Improving bathroom access for gender diverse CBS members
During a time in which transness, gender nonconformity and queerness are being criminalized and banned from public spaces across the United States, it is more and more important to make sure that members of the CBS community with these identities are supported. This project aims to do so by explicitly making clear that trans, gender nonconforming, and queer CBS community members belong in CBS spaces and facilities. Bathrooms in CBS buildings will have signs placed onto them that make it clear that trans, gender nonconforming, and queer students are welcomed in using the bathrooms that most closely align with their identities and that policing access to bathrooms based on perceived gender or sex is unacceptable. This will help transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer members of the CBS community know that they are welcome, reducing their stress and improving their physical and mental health.

Cedar Creek Post Outreach Science Tools kits 
The education program at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) offers an inspiring resource for middle and high school education through engaging field trips and inquiry-based activities. To expand scientific engagement beyond the field trip experience, we will offer teachers a multifunctional Post Outreach Science Tools (POST) kit. The kit will include educational materials related to the field trip goals and outcomes, such as activity plans and scientific tools, to extend science experiences and student learning into the classroom. We will partner with the UMN Office for Equity and Diversity's Community Outreach Retention and Engagement (CORE) program to promote DEIJ and provide science engagement activities and opportunities to first-generation students and parental engagement during outreach events. By implementing POST with local schools and regularly connecting with biological field research and researchers, this initiative aims to increase access and equity of underserved communities and bridge connections with CCESR while amplifying the visibility of CBS.

Reimagining ethical undergraduate involvement in global health through a long-term abroad partnership
Biology Without Borders is a student group and non-profit organization partnered with Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand (KWAT), a community-based non-profit abroad. We have the goal of creating an accessible opportunity for education on what ethical and sustainable global health looks like. We do this through speakers, direct conversations with stakeholders in Thailand and Myanmar, advocacy and by participating in public health campaigns informed, guided, and supervised by our abroad grassroots community partner. Therefore, we will accomplish two things: create direct and ethical global-health opportunities that are not typically accessible to undergraduate students and provide unique educational opportunities of the issues affecting marginalized groups to undergraduate students ethically and authentically. This funding will allow us to continue to deliver high-quality education, tools to continue co-creation of public health materials, and advertising to ensure as much CBS student involvement as possible. Ultimately, through these efforts, we hope to create a more inclusive and ethical future of global health. 

Young Scientists Program symposium 
The Young Scientists Program fosters scientific research interest in underrepresented scholars at our partner school, Ascension Catholic School, in Northeast Minneapolis. Scholars partner with CBS undergraduate and ICD graduate/postdoc mentors to brainstorm, formulate and execute research projects throughout the academic year. YS adapts a relationship-driven mentorship model and intentionally creates space for bi-directional learning and collaborative efforts at the intercollegiate and community levels. The CBS DEIJ grant will fund a symposium for scholars to celebrate their scientific efforts, enhance their science communication skills, explore UMN facilities and engage with family, peers, their academic community and UMN faculty members. We aim to provide an enriched engagement experience that will promote scholars' science identity. Emerging research suggests that science identity is critical to scholars' persistence and retention in the sciences, especially for female and minority scholars.

Connecting community-engaged conservation work with CBS research 
Many communities have historically been excluded from pursuing science due in part to a lack of active and inclusive engagement in science education. Recruiting a diverse STEM workforce depends on effectively engaging students with science early in their education, and our program aims to expose underrepresented youth to pathways in science and research. We are building on a decades-long youth intern program run by Urban Roots, an organization in east St. Paul, MN whose mission is to “cultivate and empower youth through nature, healthy food, and community.” Our program will bridge community-engaged conservation work with CBS research and provide an opportunity for youth interns to engage with the scientific process, gain confidence in science as a field of study, and increase their opportunities in the biological sciences and CBS. We hope that students leave with a better understanding of their professional interests and the confidence to move into a higher-level science position, including at UMN where they will have established relationships. Our work is guided by a commitment to dismantling barriers for those historically excluded, establishing strong community relationships, and creating a future in which CBS is accessible to all community members.

STEM Day is an event that will be hosted by the UMN College of Biological Sciences Student Board in partnership with CBS Outreach Programs. During the day, 100 ninth graders will come to the campus for hands-on science demos, lab tours, and presentations from student groups and faculty. Beyond putting on an enjoyable event for these young adults, we hope to expose them to what STEM is like and instill confidence in their ability to study STEM in college should this interest them. Many of the children attending this event will be from diverse backgrounds, where there is often little representation in the sciences. Thus, this initiative could grow diversity in STEM and future CBS student bodies by inspiring and connecting local youth to science and CBS at a time when post-secondary education is only a few years away. Regardless of if these students end up at CBS for their post-secondary education, this initiative has the potential to make a massive impact on their future lives.

Putting Halal food on the menu at the Itasca Biological Station 
The Itasca Biological Station & Laboratories (IBSL) has been in operation for 115 years, and while environmental biology and conservation are its mission, the dining hall has always been its nucleus. Staffed by a seasonal kitchen crew who are paid from the revenue they generate, there is little room to experiment. And in a region with 3 people per square kilometer (there are 1000 per square kilometer in the Twin Cities metro), relationship-building with a handful of Itasca region growers and suppliers is essential to deliver reliably good ingredients. This funding will provide extra pay for members of the IBSL kitchen crew to spend time identifying reliable, travel-ready suppliers of Halal food and to focus on the logistics of adding Halal food to the menu on a regular basis. A small subsidy to work outside of their 'go time' will ensure this chance to experiment and optimize, and it will be in the hands of a local staff that knows one of the deepest elements to sustaining a diverse community - food.

Lowering pre-trip anxiety for Itasca Biological Station visitors
"All are welcome at Itasca Station - the cabin door is open." These are words used regularly by the Itasca Station Director, Jonathan Schilling - but they are words not actions. One way to ACT 'Welcoming' rather than just SAY 'Welcome' is to provide digital resources that enable future users to predict how things will go during their potential visit to Itasca. Nobody likes to travel somewhere they can't imagine. This funding will enable production of onsite videos and digital touring tools that, as a package, can help group coordinators and would-be users experience Itasca ahead of their visit. The goal is to enable someone to see Itasca, to gain context for where it is, to know what is safe versus what unique hazards can arise, and to navigate the station facilities for accessibility, resources, and general feel. Field stations are unique endeavors, but they are becoming more of an asset in welcoming diversity rather than isolated outfits for the outdoorsy types. This project is meant to initiate that sense of belonging ahead of the moment when people decide to drive north.