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Oct. 29, 2021

Two students explore DEI initiatives in STEM

Vidhula Srinivasan
Vidhula Srinivasan

The 11th annual Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences (Mid-SURE) gave two MSU undergraduate students the opportunity to share their research with the university community. Vidhula Srinivasan and Ashley Atkinson each explored DEI practices in STEM fields through their respective research presentations, which lent useful insight into how universities and students across the nation are adopting these initiatives.

Srinivasan, a neuroscience junior, presented her research, “Mapping Institutional Resources and Characterizing Institutional Practices for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion among STEM Majors,” which focused on student conceptions of their introductory STEM courses in relation to DEI.

For the project, Srinivasan interviewed students from a variety of backgrounds about their academic experiences. The results gave her an understanding of the current landscape of DEI in STEM, such as existing barriers for representation, student values and hopes for future courses.  

Srinivasan completed her research through the SEISMIC program, which is a collaboration of universities across the nation that works to find solutions to the inequities that exist in introductory STEM courses.

“As a student who has taken many introductory STEM courses, it is something I was passionate about because I wanted to use my experience as a baseline and see what could be done to improve the experience of these courses for future students,” Srinivasan said.

Conducting this research project helped Srinivasan lay the foundation for her goal to attend medical school and become a physician. Through her work in the medical field, Srinivasan hopes to promote equitable healthcare for underrepresented minority groups.

“I am very passionate about creating an equitable society, especially in the field of health care,” Srinivasan said. “Although this research project wasn’t done in the field of health care, I still believe it is relevant because as a college student it is vital to understand how factors like diversity and equity affect the environment and what societal implications it fosters. Learning about this now will help me in my future career and create a healthier environment for future students.” 

Ashley Atkinson
Ashley Atkinson

Atkinson, a genomics and molecular genetics senior, presented her research, “Mapping Institutional Diversity Practice: A Case Study of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts in a STEM Undergraduate Education,” which explored the programs, policies and practices related to DEI at a public Research I university in the midwestern United States.

The project’s goals were twofold: Firstly, to map the university’s institutional diversity practices, and, secondly, to uncover underlying definitions of DEI in order to understand how these definitions operate within the university’s practices. These goals allowed Atkinson to properly identify if a given practice truly led to equitable outcomes.

“Unfortunately, institutions of higher education have historically and systematically excluded students with marginalized identities, especially in STEM,” Atkinson said. “While many universities have now issued statements and policies on diversity, equity and inclusion, it is important to evaluate whether or not these policies actually create a more inclusive and equitable campus. This is important to me because at times I wonder how effective MSU's own DEI policies are and whether all of my peers feel supported.”

Atkinson is a Lyman Briggs chemistry undergraduate learning assistant and, as such, STEM education is something she is deeply passionate about. Through her research, Atkinson wanted to understand how to improve the STEM field so that it better supports and values minority student groups. After graduation, Atkinson hopes to attend a master’s program for genetic counseling in order to achieve her dream of becoming a genetic counselor.

“It's my dream to become a genetic counselor so that I can combine my interest in genetics with my passion of helping people in their times of need.” Atkinson said.

This story was originally featured on the Undergraduate Education website.

By: Annie Dubois

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