You are here: American University College of Arts & Sciences Driving Change: Initiative for STEM Education, Equity and Ethics (ISE3)

Driving Change Pilot Initiative for STEM Education, Equity, and Ethics (ISE3)

What Is ISE3?

AU STEM Student Panel in DMTI.

The initiative's mission is to prepare diverse student populations for transferable academic and non-academic 21st century jobs in science and technology. Its vision is to emerge as a clearinghouse for STEM education, faculty and student development and scholarship, and to graduate a scientifically literate citizenry that makes informed, ethical decisions relevant to scientific inquiry and civic participation.

ISE3 and HHMI Driving Change

ISE3 has earned American University (AU) a position among 38 competing Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Driving Change finalists, nearly half of which are Research 1 universities. ISE3 will submit a $2,500,000 self-assessment proposal in 2022. 

The goal of the HHMI Driving Change (DC) initiative is to drive genuine and lasting culture change on university campuses so undergraduate students from all backgrounds, particularly those who belong to historically excluded groups, will excel in STEM and graduate from college well prepared to pursue advanced degrees and eventually assume leadership roles in STEM.

Driving Change focuses on research universities as they pursue the dual strategy of adapting a prescribed student-centered model and improving the STEM learning environment experienced by all students.

In response to the pandemic and racial unrest of the past year, HHMI paused the initial competition and awarded $50,000 to each invited university to conduct a year-long STEM self-assessment.

HHMI holds that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) methods adopted prior to the pandemic are now outdated. They are challenging universities to respond to the national consciousness of enduring impact of anti-Black racism and to change institutional culture in ways that may be replicated by other universities.

For more information, please see HHMI Driving Change.

Student in biology lab.

Driving Change at American University

Institutional change requires the capacity to identify moral harms and affirm ethical principles. Thinking about moral concerns together promotes development of skills in reasoning, inquiry, judgment, critical assessment, metacognition.  

AU’s Driving Change Pilot will consist of three complementary components:

  1. The Initiative for STEM Education, Equity and Ethics (ISE3) will conduct a self-assessment on the current state of STEM equity in introductory science courses.
  2. Faculty teaching these courses will participate in a faculty learning community.
  3. Students will pair their introductory STEM courses with a reserved section of the ethical-inquiry course Do the Right Thing.

Leadership & Contact


  • Meg Bentley, PhD
  • Nathan Harshman, PhD
  • Ellen Feder, PhD
    Philosophy & Religion
  • Amy Butler, PhD
    Senior Director,
    AU Corporate & Foundation Relations
  • Lauren Weis, PhD
    Philosophy & Religion 
  • Shari Watkins, PhD
    Research Fellow, CTRL 
  • Arthur Stallworth, EdD
    AUx Instructor & Advisor, Office of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies
Exterior of AU's Hall of Science


The assessment will help AU to develop a consensus-based definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM and to create a baseline for evaluating the impact of the ISE3 methodology.  

For many universities and their faculty, it is difficult to conceptualize how strategies and practices that address equity and inclusion can be integrated into STEM fields. A misperception expressed by some AU STEM faculty is that the quantitative and objective nature of the physical and natural sciences inoculates them to the biases that drive systemic racism. However, research shows that STEM is absolutely not immune to inequities.

Components of the Assessment

  • Advisory Committee
  • ISE3 Faculty Learning Community (FLC): a cohort of STEM faculty who teach gateway science courses will participate in a rigorous professional development experience and translate their learning into curricula and/or projects to bolster undergraduate STEM students’ success.
  • Application of FLC Knowledge and Student Engagement via (a) FLC project implementation and (b) STEM student ethics course requirement
  • Final Recommendations

By doing this assessment we will drive forward ISE3’s approach to institutional culture change among science faculty — as individuals and as members of an academic department — to shift AU’s STEM identity. 

Hall of Science and gardens in evening light.

Ethics in the STEM ClassroomFLC project implementation

In the fall/spring semesters, faculty will begin to implement their pilot projects with STEM students in gateway science courses. In each pilot, faculty will agree to include time in the syllabus for students to discuss the social impacts of the area of study and how students see themselves as participants in these fields. Students in the FLC members courses will be asked to become active participants in the pilot and to help evaluate their courses with the ISE3 intervention.  

Ethics course recommendation

Students in FLC courses will also be asked to enroll in PHIL-120 Do the Right Thing, an ethical reasoning course.