The NSF Eddie Bernice Johnson INCLUDES Aspire Alliance's Vision and Goals

To achieve an inclusive and diverse national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)  faculty who thrive within inclusive organizational cultures, leading to high retention from underrepresented groups (URG) in STEM career pathways.

The NSF Eddie Bernice Johnson INCLUDES Aspire Alliance has 3 original goals:  1) Deepen the preparation of all future, early-career and current STEM faculty to be inclusive and effective in their undergraduate teaching, research mentoring and advising; 2) Diversify the national faculty through effective recruitment, hiring, and retention of underrepresented group (URG) STEM faculty via institutional transformation in practices, policies, and resources; and 3) Foster postsecondary organizational cultures that recognize and value inclusivity and diversity broadly, and in the context of STEM faculty work specifically. In February 2022, Aspire added Goal 4: Collective Impact and Collaborative Infrastructure.

Aspire's Theory of Change

The NSF INCLUDES Aspire Alliance (Aspire) Theory of Change articulates our NSF INCLUDES Alliance vision to build a national network with a systemic approach. The theory of change graphic shows that the Aspire Alliance will accomplish its outcomes and vision by working at both individual (attitudes, beliefs, individual practices) and organizational (policies, procedures, and cultures) levels.  The Alliance collaborates with faculty, future faculty, and faculty influencers in a shared leadership model to advance broadening participation. The ultimate vision is to have an inclusive and diverse STEM faculty who thrive within inclusive organizations. 

We describe our revised theory in three major components leading to our vision of an inclusive and diverse STEM faculty:

Necessary Conditions for Change

Synergistic Individual and Organizational-Level Change

Aspire’s implementation of individual-level change strategies help shift individual mental models and practices with an explicit or implicit focus to improve organizational conditions. Individual-level work targets URG and ally faculty, administrators, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and professional society leaders. As an example, Aspire works with disciplinary societies to provide faculty professional development on the Inclusive Professional Framework (IPF) and provides mentored experiences at community colleges for graduate students. Similarly, Aspire implements strategies at the organizational-level that improve organizational and institutional cultures. Organizational-level work is focused on 2- and 4-year institutions, professional societies, and national partner organizations. For example, Aspire is working with institutions in the Institutional Change Network to advance policies and practices that result in more inclusive and diverse institutional cultures. 

The individual level and organizational level strategies interact to support one another, and both are necessary in order to create transformative systems change.

Collaborative Infrastructure with Shared Leadership

Aspire uses the elements of collaborative infrastructure as described in the NSF Collaborative Framework (shared vision, partnerships, goals & metrics, leadership, expansion, sustainability & scale) to accomplish its intended impacts. Building off of a shared vision with multiple partners, the Alliance fundamentally relies on the collaboration of embedded stakeholders in a distributed leadership model to set shared goals. While this collaboration targets individual and organizational change at institutions, the shared leadership collaboration extends to build a diverse ecosystem of alliance partners who are necessary for larger, systemic change in higher education. This ecosystem of partners supports Aspire’s expansion, sustainability, and scaling. 

Engagement of current & aspiring URG and Ally faculty stakeholders

The Aspire Alliance engages current and aspiring faculty as change leaders. Faculty influencers, such as provosts, deans, department chairs, professional/disciplinary society partners, and counterspace participants are also engaged to help pave the way for change leaders and to advance institutional practice and culture change.

Aspire seeks to engage, support, and transform aspiring faculty, current faculty, and faculty influencers, both URG and ally, in their awareness, skills, and actions

Strategies for Systems Change

Develop & deliver professional development & resources

Aspire provides professional development for current and future faculty to develop skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy to implement inclusive practices across their teaching, mentoring, advising, colleagueship, and leadership roles.  By expanding and strengthening their equity mindset, future and current faculty are better equipped to support success in a diverse student population in both 2-year and 4-year institutions.

Our activities include mentored teaching practicum, Aspire Summer Institute, leadership training with IAspire, Equity in Action online professional development series, mentoring leadership workshops, professional development events, disciplinary society conference workshops, professional society workshops, URG support through IThrive, published articles and Information resources on our website.

Facilitate institutional & organizational culture change 

Aspire supports equity-based organizational change across the academic ecosystem.  This includes working with faculty, faculty developers, and institutional administration, as well as the disciplinary organizations and professional societies that can have significant influence on faculty and academic culture.  In this way, institutional and individual change is reinforced, leading to more durable and transformational organizational change.  As academic STEM environments become more equitable and inclusive at all levels, underrepresented groups are better recruited, retained, represented, and supported for success.

Our activities include 2-year college faculty pathway, institutional action plans, institutional self-assessments, disciplinary society convenings, disciplinary society conference workshops, professional society conference workshops, equity-based training & consultation for centers for teaching and learning.

Build diverse ecosystem of partnerships

Partnership engagement and the onboarding of new partners are important elements for Aspire’s future expansion, sustainability, and impact. Aspire works collaboratively with our partners to connect to networks of STEM faculty leaders within their disciplinary context, and several of our partners are within disciplinary societies or organizations that offer symposia and/or conferences for STEM Faculty. Our National Change and Backbone initiatives work together to track and develop new relationships that will enable us to have an impact on the conversations about teaching, research mentoring and advising that take place within disciplines. IChange seeks out partners that can expand institutional leaders’ learning about promising and effective change leadership strategies, and we work with 2-year institutions via regional partnerships between 2 and 4-year institutions to diversify the future 2-year faculty. This diversity of partnerships allows us to impact the ecosystem of higher education.

Our activities include IPF for Disciplinary and Professional societies, 2- & 4-year institutional change teams, partnerships with institutions in NSF’s ADVANCE program.

Conduct and share research

Through our social science research, we learn about IChange’s institutional leaders and leadership culture, Aspire’s collaborative infrastructure and its impact on Aspire efforts, and Aspire’s leadership structure and practices so that we can contribute to the broadening participation literature and knowledge.

Our activities

The Work We Do to Achieve the Outcomes

The necessary conditions for change and strategies for system change are designed to improve awareness, learning, skills, practices/policies, and culture change in order to achieve  Aspire’s broadening participation outcomes. These outcomes are directly related to each of our Aspire Goals:

Inclusive STEM faculty in teaching, mentoring, and advising (Outcome for Goal 1)

The underlying process and assumptions to achieve this outcome include the following:

Thus, for this strategy, the work happens primarily at the individual level, but the end result is more inclusive environments that are transformed through individual and collective action. 

Organizational transformation of faculty-related practices, policies, and resources and Diversification of faculty through improved recruitment, hiring, and retention (Outcome for Goal 2)

The assumptions and processes for 4-year and 2-year schools are slightly different in how they are approached by Aspire, so these are delineated separately below.

Our assumptions and underlying process for diversifying the 4-year faculty 

Our assumptions and underlying process for diversifying the 2-year faculty 

Equity embedded into faculty cultures (Outcome for Goal 3)

The underlying process and assumptions for this work related to Goal 3 include the following:

Collaborative infrastructure focuses on equitable, inclusive shared leadership (Goal 4)

Aspire realized that the traditional and hierarchical structure of NSF-funded projects was inappropriate for our work. Therefore, we follow a shared systems leadership model that requires that individuals collectively engage in organizational planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. In the context of Aspire, shared leadership requires individuals to foreground inclusivity and equity. A shared leadership model also requires shifts not only in one’s approach to leadership but also in the distribution of responsibilities and decision-making power over that work. This works in practice by having all of our decision-making and informational sessions open to Aspire members, engaging taskforces and committees to provide recommendations at these meetings, and following a consensus-oriented decision-making process.