The IDS Sloan Fellows Program: Growing a Cohort of Faculty Fellows with Critical Skills to Diversify STEM—A Model for the UMass System

Diversity in STEM Requires Inclusive Faculty, Scaling, and Empowered Students.
The Sloan Fellows Program Achieves All Three.

Scientist making observations using a microscope

“Aristotle said, ‘Teaching is the highest form of understanding,’” quotes Joanna Dahl, Assistant Professor of Engineering at UMass Boston. “And I can teach bioengineering.

“But fostering a diverse lab and classroom? A STEM program that is welcoming to all students? That’s a lot trickier than cell properties and microfluids.”

Diversity trainings—while helpful—do not go as far as they could. When learning the ins-and-outs of inclusion, faculty need to be supported, nurtured, and educated with the same care and rigor that they achieve in their own classrooms. And achieving an inclusive STEM field requires something beyond mere awareness: we need a culture change among faculty.

At UMass Amherst, the Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) is paving the way towards that culture change with the Sloan Fellows Program.

Funded by a large grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Sloan Fellows Program is a research mentoring program that pairs Black, Latine/Hispanic, and Indigenous undergraduate students with faculty.

Through the program, Sloan Faculty Fellows undergo training on mentoring, cultural awareness, and other skills. Moreover, they meet with their peers regularly to reflect on their experiences and share best practices. In this way, the faculty experience goes beyond the occasional diversity training. Rather, they are engaged in a community that promotes culture change on a long-term, consistent basis.

“Diversity and inclusion are not things that you can relegate to a manual or a seminar,” reflects Dahl. “This is something that we as professors do, or fail to do, every single day. The Sloan Fellows Program has given me a toolkit and community to explore this issue more deeply and confidently than I ever have, and I can see it coming out in my relationships with my students. I feel like I’m really making an impact.”

Empowered Faculty Empower Their Students

Key to that impact, Dahl says, is the faculty’s mentorship of Student Fellows—undergraduate students selected to participate in the program alongside the faculty.

In their mentorship capacity, Sloan Faculty Fellows provide Student Fellows with hands-on research experience, academic and career advice, networking opportunities, and professional skills (such as how to negotiate and self-advocate with potential employers).

Student Fellows participate in a six-week professional development program in the Summer called the Leadership Academy, and receive a $5000 stipend for the year of their Fellowship.

“The Sloan Program has opened doors for me that I never thought were possible,” said Yareime Arce Santiago, a Civil Engineering student at UMass Amherst who has been selected as a Sloan Student Fellow for the 2023-24 academic year. “In my faculty mentors, I see role models who I can relate to and who are showing me how to navigate my education and career. For the first time, I can really see myself fitting in and ‘making it’ in STEM.”

A Diversity Effort at the Heart of Massachusetts’ Economy

The Sloan Fellows Program began as a partnership between UMass Amherst and UMass Boston out of a shared commitment to foster diversity in STEM and to broaden the pathways available to marginalized students. Now, IDS hopes to expand the program to the entire UMass system—particularly given that system’s importance as an economic engine of Massachusetts.

With nearly 18,000 graduates each year, and more than 335,000 alumni living and working in Massachusetts, UMass is the largest contributor to the state’s workforce. Its contribution to the state economy totals more than $7.5 billion.

The scale of the UMass student and alumni communities is not the only factor driving its importance. As a university system at the forefront of groundbreaking research in STEM, UMass alumni are the future of the critical sciences, technologies, and industries that will define society for years to come. Indeed, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of out of every three jobs created in Massachusetts between 2018 and 2028 will be in STEM fields.

And yet, if current trends hold, the growth of STEM will not benefit all Massachusettsans equally.

As it stands, women and people of color are woefully underrepresented in STEM fields in Massachusetts. Data from the Commonwealth Corporation paints a shocking picture: when excluding healthcare, women hold only 29% of STEM jobs, while Black and Latine/Hispanic hold only 5% and 6%, respectively.

As such, the academic and professional development of the UMass system and its student body will profoundly impact the development of the Massachusetts workforce—and will help determine whether or not the state embraces its diverse population equitably. UMass is uniquely influential in the economic, cultural, and intellectual life of Massachusetts as a whole, and we need to use this influence wisely.

“The Sloan Fellows Program is a vehicle for culture change in STEM,” says Nilanjana Dasgupta, provost professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of IDS. “It offers something that many of our Student Fellows have never had before, and that is a sense of belonging, a feeling of representation. Research has demonstrated the lasting, positive impacts that has on marginalized students. And moreover, it provides faculty a lasting community in which to nurture their own developments as advocates of inclusion.

“My hope for Sloan is that it expands across the whole UMass system,” Nilanjana continues. “UMass is a leader in Massachusetts, much like Massachusetts is a cultural leader for the country. Through programs like Sloan, this institution can stand at the helm of a culture change in labs, classrooms, and the workplace in Massachusetts and beyond.”