Nearly eight years ago, the four-day Amherst Uprising sit-in in Frost Library inspired the creation of a biology/chemistry special topics course called “Being Human in STEM” (abbreviated HSTEM). That class, in turn, spawned an educational movement. And now it’s the subject of a book.
Authored by Sarah Bunnell, associate director and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) specialist in Amherst’s Center for Teaching and Learning; Sheila Jaswal, professor of chemistry and interim chief equity and inclusion officer; and Megan Lyster, former instructional designer for experiential learning in the Center for Community Engagement (now assistant director of the Wurtele Center for Leadership at Smith College), Being Human in STEM: Partnering with Students to Shape Inclusive Practices and Communities is a guide for faculty members and administrators looking to better support students of color and other marginalized groups “who have felt unwelcome and unsupported in their past STEM experiences,” the introduction explains. Among other things, the book chronicles how the Uprising inspired the HSTEM course, offers resources for those interested in creating their own version of HSTEM on their campuses, and explores the models of colleges and universities across the country that have successfully developed their own versions of the initiative. In addition, it contains an array of tools for instructors, such as guiding reflective questions to use while teaching, facilitator materials and outlines of student-endorsed exercises “that can foster a sense of belonging and inclusion in classrooms and laboratory spaces.”
“It feels wonderful to be able to share this story as well as the resources and course model that we’ve developed and refined over time at Amherst,” said Bunnell at a March 31 book launch in the Science Center that drew students, staff and faculty alike. She articulated a common theme in the speakers’ remarks: that, while the authors can be credited with the initial development of the course at the College, HSTEM “was really created by, and continues to be driven by, students—students who care deeply about Amherst and who want to help shape how we teach and learn with each other.”
Several such participants in HSTEM classes over the years, who subsequently became facilitators for it, talked at the celebration about the lessons they personally learned from HSTEM. They also expressed their gratitude for their involvement with the class.
“I gained a lot of tools that have served me since I took HSTEM, and I made meaningful relationships as well,” said Diego Carias ’23, who first took the course virtually and was then invited by Jaswal to serve as a student facilitator. Carias added that he is enjoying the job, as it enables him to see and experience firsthand how “our hard work and dedication helps frame and shape our course today.”
Michelle Kha ’24, who also participated in the HSTEM course online, noted that it got her thinking about broader issues related to diversity and inclusivity in STEM fields, such as disparities in academia in particular and “the absence of voices that are not commonly heard.” Echoing Carias’ comments on relationships, she explained that, even in a remote format, she was able to form a special community with peers and “engage with transformative and eye-opening materials.” Now, as a student facilitator, Kha said she’s gratified to be able to play a role in the course’s evolution. “We are always trying to adjust and improve. It’s all about listening to a broad range of experiences and having necessary conversations on campus.”
The constant evolution of the HSTEM course and the initiative is intentional, said Jaswal, adding that her experiences with HSTEM have had an outsized impact on her own 30-year career. “All of [the students, staff, and faculty participants in HSTEM] have reshaped our own STEM communities, reshaped ourselves and helped each other envision and meet that challenge to continually do better—and celebrate as we do it,” she said. “In that respect, the impact of the course went beyond any of our wildest dreams.”