Notre Dame receives honorable mention in NSF Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Challenge focusing on STEM

Graduate students participating in an orientation event in front of Hesburgh Library

The University of Notre Dame received an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Taking Action: COVID-19 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Challenge.

The challenge was designed to encourage institutions of higher education to “think deeply about the long-term, potentially negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on diversity, equity and inclusion” — and to spread the best ideas and solutions to other institutions of higher education.

The College of Engineering led the effort at Notre Dame, focusing its entry on the “double-edged sword” impact of STEM AP credits (Advanced Placement in Calculus, Chemistry or Physics) on students’ education.

On one side, students who arrive at college with STEM AP scores often receive credit and advanced placement in classes. This gives them more room in their schedules and flexibility in pursuit of their engineering degrees (for example, to have a minor, study abroad, explore other aspects of their education).

On the other side, many well-qualified students do not take the exams (for reasons of access to AP classes, cost, etc.) In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of students taking the tests across the country continued to decline.

Notre Dame Engineering has been working on addressing this issue for some time, and has taken steps to ensure that lack of STEM AP credit does not mean lack of flexibility or success for students. These steps include: curricular changes to offer more flexibility and establish multiple pathways to complete degree requirements; policy changes to allow for more students pursuing minors and adjusted credits for degrees; and an undergraduate curricular committee to provide oversight of all degree programs.

Notre Dame’s entry to the NSF challenge was led by Yih-Fang Huang, senior associate dean for education and undergraduate programs, and co-authored by Leo McWilliams, assistant dean for undergraduate programs, along with Ronald Metoyer, associate dean for diversity and faculty development, and Yvette Rodriguez, program director for diversity, equity and inclusion in the College of Engineering.

— College of Engineering