Virginia Tech has been selected as one of only 19 universities in the nation to join a three-year institutional change effort designed to further develop inclusive faculty recruitment, hiring, and retention practices.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) co-leads the effort, known as Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty. Virginia Tech and the other new cohort institutions join two earlier cohorts that are currently working together to advance such work, bringing the total number of institutions participating in the institutional change effort to 54. The National Science Foundation funds the effort as part of its INCLUDES initiative.

“Faculty diversity within our STEM disciplines and across our university community is critically important to building a world-class academic enterprise and achieving our strategic goals,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “In partnership with organizations like the Aspire Alliance and its IChange Network, Virginia Tech is continuing to create dynamic learning experiences and opportunities for students through our campus-wide commitment to recruit, retain, and advance a diverse community of talented scholars and researchers.”

Aimed at ensuring all STEM faculty use inclusive teaching practices and that institutions increase the diversity of their STEM professoriate, Virginia Tech, along with the other participating universities, will begin its work with a self-assessment of current practices and assets. The institutions will then develop and implement campus action plans to drive change and scale such efforts across all their STEM programs.

In alignment with the Aspire Alliance’s goals and in advancement of the university’s strategic plan and Beyond Boundaries vision, Virginia Tech continues to seek ways to advance practices, policies, and resources that sustain diverse and inclusive environments. Virginia Tech is continuing the transformation of its culture to one that systematically demonstrates the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion, where behaviors and practices are consistently reflected and espoused in the experiences of all community members.

“We are delighted to have been selected for this national three-year program,” said Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity. “It speaks to InclusiveVT — our institutional and individual commitment to Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence. The need to broaden the STEM pipeline is one of critical national importance, and to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities in these fields is one of the best strategies available is to have a diverse faculty body.”

The Aspire Alliance, which APLU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison facilitate with the involvement of several universities, is engaging Virginia Tech and the new cohort universities through its Institutional Change (IChange) Network. The network provides universities with comprehensive support and resources for institutional change, including access to national partners in a concierge-style approach to technical assistance.

Virginia Tech is bringing to the IChange Network a strong history and record of commitment to similar work in diversifying the faculty community and building more inclusive environments. In order to achieve a more significant and strategic level of change and subsequent outcomes, Virginia Tech is taking a university-wide approach to studying current approaches, policies, practices and programs with the goal of instituting organization-wide efforts that will be more successful.

“The design and approach of the IChange Network is the perfect impetus for us to get all of our collaborative leaders at the table together, reviewing our pockets of success and agreeing to policy, practice, and educational changes that will benefit the whole university,” said Amy Hogan, assistant provost for leadership initiatives. “Virginia Tech is well positioned to partner with the Aspire Alliance to advance our commitments to inclusion and diversity, both in STEM fields and across the entire university.”

Despite the centrality of diversity in learning and student success, efforts to increase underrepresented faculty nationally have not been as successful as intended, particularly in STEM. A 2019 NSF analysis revealed that underrepresented minority faculty occupied a mere 9 percent of professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Other research shows when underrepresented students are taught by diverse faculty members they achieve at significantly higher rates; as much as 20 to 50 percent of the course achievement gaps between minority and majority students are eliminated.

“We face a critical shortfall of diversity in STEM fields nationally,” said Travis York, APLU’s assistant vice president for academic and student affairs, who is also co-leader of the IChange Network. “The institutions participating in the IChange Network are moving beyond statements into actions as they seek to enact inclusive organizational structures to increase diversity of their faculty and value the use of equity-minded practices by all faculty as we work to address a national challenge.”

Other institutions joining Virginia Tech in the new Aspire Alliance cohort include Appalachian State University; California Polytechnic State University, Pomona; Grand Valley State University; Jackson State University; Lehigh University; Louisiana Tech University; Mississippi State University; Pennsylvania State University; Stevens Institute of Technology; Temple University; The Ohio State University; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Denver; University of Louisiana at Lafayette; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of Pittsburgh; and Utah State University.