Advancement of STEM graduate education: Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility

At the forefront of a crucial mission, the U.S. National Science Foundation Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) Program is dedicated to uncovering groundbreaking methods and resources that not only propel science, technology, engineering and mathematics education forward but also champion diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). IGE initiatives not only align with the agency's vision of cultivating an inclusive environment but also serve as a path for embracing the diverse collection of perspectives and talents within the STEM community. Through a strategic blend of targeted support and collaborative partnerships, NSF is breaking down barriers and paving the way for all aspiring individuals to thrive in the world of STEM.  


NSF's Five Areas of Focus to achieve diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in STEM.

1. Empowering a diverse STEM workforce

This focus area aims to nurture and develop a STEM workforce that reflects the diversity of the population. It includes grants designed to support underrepresented groups in STEM, such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Initiatives often provide mentorship and research opportunities to empower these groups.

NSF collaborates with higher education institutions, professional societies and not-for-profit organizations to implement diversity in STEM workforce programs. For instance, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program is a noteworthy partnership aimed at increasing the number of minority students pursuing STEM degrees and transitioning into the workforce.

2. Building research infrastructure and capacity across the nation

This area focuses on enhancing the research capabilities and infrastructure in regions and institutions that are traditionally underfunded. By doing so, NSF aims to democratize access to cutting-edge research facilities and resources, enabling a broader range of institutions to participate in high-level STEM research.

Partnerships with state and local governments, as well as with academic institutions, are crucial. The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is a prime example, helping to build research capacity in states that receive less federal research funding.

3. Advancing the science of broadening participation

Understanding the barriers to broadening participation in STEM is crucial. This focus area supports research that examines the effectiveness of interventions designed to increase diversity and inclusion. It aims to generate evidence-based strategies that can be widely implemented.

Collaborations with academic researchers, as well as with educational and community organizations, are key. Such partnerships ensure that the research is grounded in real-world contexts and can directly inform policy and practice. An example of such a partnership is the Science of Broadening Participation program, which aims to inform educators, employers and policymakers on factors that broaden diverse participation across all sectors.

4. Promoting inclusive outreach and engagement

This initiative supports creating an environment in STEM that is welcoming to all. It involves outreach and engagement activities that promote STEM education among underrepresented groups. The goal is to inspire a diverse generation of students to pursue STEM careers.

NSF works with museums, science centers, public schools and media organizations to reach a broad audience. Programs such as Advancing Informal STEM Learning focus on engaging the public with STEM outside of traditional classroom settings.

5. Developing policy and support structures

To sustain efforts in broadening participation, NSF is also involved in developing policies and support structures that institutionalize diversity and inclusion practices within STEM education and research. This includes guidelines for grant proposals, review processes that prioritize diversity efforts, and support for institutions to implement inclusive practices.

NSF partners with government agencies, academic institutions and policy organizations to shape and implement policies to broaden diversity, inclusion, equity and accessibility in STEM education and workforce development.


Building upon the initiatives aimed at broadening DEIA standards in graduate STEM education, the agency supports targeted projects across NSF's five focus areas. Three notable projects and their outcomes are showcased below:  

1. Mental health opportunities for professional empowerment in STEM 

Montana State University Billings.

The M-HOPES initiative is designed to address the mental health challenges faced by graduate students in STEM fields. Recognizing that mental health is a critical component of student success and retention, this project aims to provide resources, support systems and interventions tailored to the unique pressures experienced by STEM graduate students. The goal is to foster an environment where mental well-being is prioritized alongside academic and professional development.

M-HOPES operates through partnerships between universities, mental health professionals and student organizations. These collaborations ensure the project is grounded in the latest mental health research and best practices. Workshops, counseling sessions, peer support groups and online resources are among the tools employed to empower students to manage stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. By directly addressing these challenges, M-HOPES strives to enhance the overall well-being and productivity of the STEM graduate community. Additional information is available on the initiative website.

2. Scalable storytelling interventions to support graduate student success in STEM

Boise State University.

This innovative initiative leverages the power of storytelling to support graduate students in STEM. It recognizes that personal and professional challenges can often hinder student success and seeks to mitigate these through storytelling interventions. These interventions involve sharing experiences and strategies for overcoming obstacles and fostering a sense of community, belonging and resilience among STEM graduate students.

The project brings educators, researchers and students together to create and share impactful stories. Workshops and digital platforms are used to facilitate the sharing of narratives that highlight diverse paths to success in STEM. This approach not only helps to destigmatize failure and struggle but also provides students with relatable models of perseverance and achievement. Ultimately, the project aims to enhance student engagement, persistence, and success by promoting an inclusive and supportive culture within STEM graduate programs. Additional information is available on the initiative website.

3. Building practical, evidence-based teaching capacity in tomorrow's doctorates

University of Washington.

This project focuses on preparing future STEM leaders by enhancing their teaching skills with evidence-based practices. Recognizing the critical role of effective teaching in higher education, the initiative aims to equip doctoral students with the teaching tools necessary for success in diverse educational settings. The project emphasizes practical teaching strategies that are inclusive and accessible to all students, thereby supporting broader diversity and participation goals in STEM education.

The initiative involves collaboration between the University of Washington's Center for Teaching and Learning, STEM departments and external education experts. Through workshops, seminars and mentorship programs, doctoral students are exposed to contemporary teaching methodologies, classroom management techniques and strategies for engaging a diverse student body. This project not only enhances the teaching capabilities of future STEM educators but also ensures that they can foster inclusive and supportive learning environments for their students. The long-term impact is seen in the creation of a more effective, equitable and diverse STEM education. The initiative abstract includes more information.


The initiatives at Montana State University Billings, Boise State University, and the University of Washington exemplify the multifaceted approach required to address the challenges of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in STEM graduate education. By focusing on storytelling to build resilience and community and by enhancing teaching capacity with evidence-based practices and collaboration efforts, these initiatives contribute significantly to NSF's goals. They not only support the individual success of STEM graduate students but also ensure the development of future leaders who are well-equipped to contribute to a diverse and resilient STEM workforce.


Since its inception, the IGE program has funded 94 projects across 84 institutions in 35 states and the District of Columbia, including in 11 states with Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research programs, 27 non-research-intensive institutions and 17 minority-serving institutions.