FIRST Action Team Spring 2019

The inaugural FIRST Institutional Action Team was formed in Spring 2019 and composed of five influential STEM students (Jonathan Kim ’19, Claudia Hernandez ’20, Sabid Hossain ’21, Kasey Leung ’20, Haleena Phillips ’21) with an alumni coach (Annie Sadler ’17).  The FIRST Leadership Team suggested the Action Team consider the following prompts to guide their work:  What do STEM faculty members need to understand about their students and their experiences?  What are STEM faculty members not seeing/understanding to help all students succeed?  What pushes students toward and away from STEM at Davidson?  How can institutional policies and/or structures be changed to enhance student success in STEM?  If you had a magic wand how would you improve STEM at Davidson?  What is FIRST overlooking?

The Action Team then consulted with a wide constituency of STEM students and alumni by forming a FIRST Consulting Team.  They also created three infographics (1, 2, 3) describing the diversity of Davidson STEM students and faculty members to stimulate informal campus conversations.  Ultimately, the Action Team identified five specific recommendations to improve inclusivity in STEM at Davidson that they shared with a Board of Trustees committee through this infographic, with the FIRST Leadership Team through this report, and with the campus community as a poster at the Verna Miller Case Symposium.  Moreover, The Davidsonian profiled the Action Team in this article.

The FIRST Action Team’s specific recommendations are:
1 – Pilot a new partnership at Davidson wherein feedback from student partners help STEM faculty members develop more inclusive practices.  SaLT (Students as Learners & Teachers) serves as a successful model to consider.
2 – To develop more STEM courses that meet the Justice, Equality, & Community (JEC) graduation requirement.
3 – To increase the diversity of scientists who are invited to campus to give STEM department colloquia/seminars.
4 – To improve office hour experiences and interactions by suggesting best practices for both students and faculty members.
5 – To create and support affinity groups for underrepresented STEM students to establish networks with and engage in mentoring relationships with other scientists in marginalized groups.

Motivation for FIRST Action Teams:
Changing institutional structures, procedures, policies, and traditions that prohibit student success is critical, yet often exceptionally hard to accomplish.  In response, FIRST will launch Action Teams.  Each year FIRST’s Leadership Team will select at least one specific institutional barrier and catalyze the formation of a team of influential students, staff, and/or faculty members to study the barrier(s) and propose specific, actionable recommendations that will be communicated directly to faculty leadership, administration, and the campus at large.

Each team will be charged with removing or reducing at least one specific institutional barrier to new majority student success in STEM that is beyond the reach of even the most committed and successful individuals.  Acknowledging that change can be slow and building buy-in can take time, the Leadership Team will keep Action Team recommendations “on the agenda” so that specific recommendations for positive change improve inclusivity in STEM at Davidson.

Suggestions, ideas, and nominations for subsequent FIRST Action Team topics and/or members are welcome at any time by contacting any member of FIRST’s Leadership Team.