The Collegian
Monday, March 27, 2023

UR awarded large grant to support belonging and inclusivity in STEM

<p>Research students at the Belonging Consortium meeting on Feb. 27. Photo courtesy of the Belonging Project.&nbsp;</p>

Research students at the Belonging Consortium meeting on Feb. 27. Photo courtesy of the Belonging Project. 

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the University of Richmond a $625,000 grant that will go toward a six-year program to improve student inclusion in STEM on campus. 

The HHMI Inclusive Excellence 3 grant “challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably build their capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences,” according to the HHMI website

UR biology professor Angie Hilliker is the program director, leading an interdisciplinary team of faculty on the project, according to an announcement on the UR Website

The team initially applied for the grant in 2019, but it was officially awarded in November 2022, according to the HHMI website. The HHMI began looking through applications right around when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which changed everything, Hilliker said. 

“The [HHMI] said, ‘well, why are we doing this competition where we’re asking all of these schools who want to do good work to write a proposal and then we’re going to cut 90% of them?’” Hilliker said. “So instead, they took a greater number of finalists and they put us into learning communities.” 

The purpose of these communities is to provide institutions with additional support and others to work in tandem with. Each institution will ultimately implement their own individualized campus interventions, but they are encouraged to collaborate when they can, Hilliker said. 

“It’s a different grant than what faculty get to fund their personal research,” Hilliker said. “This is really a grant for the institution.” 

Working alongside Hilliker is a psychology-research team helmed by Karen Kochel, an associate professor of psychology at UR. Her lab is focusing on the Belongingness Project with the goal of developing an intervention designed to promote inclusion and belonging in the classroom, Kochel said. 

In the first year of research, Kochel’s team is primarily studying useful literature such as UR’s institutional data, and observing past efforts made by the university to promote inclusion. They ultimately seek to implement aspects of what has worked and learn from anything that hasn’t, Kochel said. 

“At the end of the six years, we will have identified an intervention that has shown some evidence of improving sense of belonging and will have some sort of institutional support,” Kochel said. “We will be able to implement the intervention at a large scale, so that it can be something that incoming students are able to increasingly benefit from.” 

Within the Belongingness Project is the Belonging Consortium, which is a group of research students aiding in the literature study with the focus of figuring out what has been implemented at institutions similar to UR, like Hamilton College. The goal is to use this research to provide a starting point for how things can be done here, Kochel said.

Junior Yangyue Li, worked as a member of the consortium last semester and will continue helping design the project’s intervention this summer. 

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

“The literature revealed that there are a lot of results showing that among minority students their belongingness is kind of lower than other students,” Li said. “So we specifically focused on minority students in our lab.” 

Last semester, Kochel’s lab also began discussing early ideas for how to encourage belongingness on campus, including through peer-to-peer or professor-to-student mentor relationships, Li said. 

The key to the entire project is the students – regardless of major or department, Kochel said. 

“We need to hear from students,” Kochel said. “Students need to play a central role in this project.” 

Contact news writer Caitlin McCormack at

Support independent student media

You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.

Donate Now