Duane Bonifer  |  Published December 02, 2022

$470,666 Grant

Monmouth College receives major national grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute to partner with Illinois Central College to support underrepresented students in STEM majors.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College has received a major national grant to help make higher education more inclusive.

The $470,666 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will be used to help create a seamless transfer pathway for Illinois Central College students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and science at Monmouth.

Monmouth is among 104 schools to receive a six-year grant through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s $60 million Inclusive Excellence initiative. The initiative challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably build capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.

“The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the world’s leaders in biomedical research and support of education in the biomedical fields. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant is, in the higher education world, equivalent to an Oscar or Grammy,” said Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt. “Receiving this award affirms the creative work of our faculty and staff and recognizes Monmouth’s focus on empowering its students.”

“A Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant is, in the higher education world, equivalent to an Oscar or Grammy. Receiving this award affirms the creative work of our faculty and staff and recognizes Monmouth’s focus on empowering its students.” President Clarence Wyatt

Wyatt said the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant also advances several key elements of Monmouth’s strategic plan – enriching the College’s curricular experience and positioning the College to more effectively attract and serve students who begin their college careers at two-year institutions.

Monmouth Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Willhardt said it was especially rewarding to receive the grant because so much faculty effort went into making it a reality.

“Faculty have been pursuing this since before the pandemic, so it is great to see their dedication pay off – literally, with the grant, and figuratively, for all the terrific students the grant will support,” said Willhardt.

Monmouth faculty hope to create by this summer a program on Monmouth’s campus that will introduce incoming ICC students to math and research.

ERIC ENGSTROM: Biology professor, who was part of the grant-writing team, said, We've chose... ERIC ENGSTROM: Biology professor, who was part of the grant-writing team, said, "We've chosen mathematics as our pivot point. Math is the great intimidator. A student might be interested in a subject until they realize there's math involved. We have to work on this. Math is something anyone can successfully learn.”“Students would be involved in a real research project, getting data and doing some math,” said biology professor Eric Engstrom, who worked on the grant proposal. “They’d get to see what real research is like. Some students may have never experienced that.”

Math is part of the equation because of the hurdle it traditionally represents for interest in disciplines connected to science, technology, engineering and math, popularly known as STEM.

“We’ve chosen mathematics as our pivot point,” said Engstrom. “Math is the great intimidator. A student might be interested in a subject until they realize there’s math involved. We have to work on this. Math is something anyone can successfully learn.”

“I want to thank faculty members Eric Engstrom in biology and Michael Solontoi in physics for their leadership in this effort, to all the other members of the faculty and staff who will work on the project, and to VP for Academic Affairs Mark Willhardt for coordinating and supporting this work,” said Wyatt.

MIKE SOLONTOI: Physics professor was another integral part of the grant-writing team. MIKE SOLONTOI: Physics professor was another integral part of the grant-writing team.“This has been a very deep team effort,” said Engstrom.

In addition to Engstrom and Solontoi, Monmouth’s grant team included professors Chris Fasano of physics and Logan Mayfield of mathematics, statistics and computer science; Marnie Dugan, director of the Wackerle Center for Career, Leadership and Fellowships; Regina Johnson, director of the Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion and Community; and members of the College’s Office of Admission.

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