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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has selected Boston University, the University of California, Davis, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell as the first institutional awardees in the STEM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change program. The awards were presented at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting.

The three universities are starting their programs to identify effective institutional efforts to attract, retain, and advance underrepresented students and faculty engaged in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

SEA Change aims to expand the talent pool for the STEM workforce by calling on colleges and universities to take steps to identify and remove barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.

According to Joyce Wong, professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Boston University, all talent should be on board to provide the scientific expertise that the nation needs. 

Unlike intervention programs that work for individuals, the SEA Change program supports and recognizes institutions as they transform their policies and practices to ensure that all can thrive. The program is driven by data and goal-setting, a focus on continuous progress, and a spirit of collaboration.

The awards require institutions to conduct a data-based self-assessment to appraise their institutional makeup, policies, and culture and identify knowledge gaps and barriers. Then, each institution develops its own detailed action plans.

The self-assessment process “forces an institution to find root causes that are specific to that institution,” Wong said. For example, Boston University’s self-assessment process showed that it should increase diversity of graduate students in Ph.D. programs in STEM.

Institutions are accountable for achieving the individual goals they have set. Julie Chen, vice chancellor for research and innovation at UMass Lowell said that her university is implementing training to help faculty recognize and respond to even subtle instances of discrimination.

Participating institutions must reapply at least every 5 years to maintain their award or earn a higher award. The three universities earned bronze awards, but SEA Change aims to present silver and gold awards to bronze winners that demonstrate exemplary progress.

AAAS is currently working with a second group of applicants. It is also developing the SEA Change Community, a group of stakeholders committed to diversity in STEM, and the SEA Change Institute, a repository of research and training materials.