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Trio of Regional Colleges Receive Grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

December 8, 2022

Half-million-dollar grant will help increase access to STEM opportunities

BRISTOL, Tenn., Dec. 8, 2022 – King University, along with Northeast State and Virginia Highlands Community Colleges, have together received a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative to build capacity for greater diversity and inclusion of students in science.

The three institutions will be working together in the coming years to increase student access to educational and career opportunities in STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

The IE3 initiative provides more than $60 million in funding over six years, which will be shared by 104 four-year colleges and universities. Institutions have been divided into seven diverse Learning Community Clusters (LCCs) to maximize learning and influence change. King, Northeast State, and Virginia Highlands are working within the IMPACT STEM Transfer Network cluster, and the trio is collectively receiving approximately $500,000 to focus on building meaningful, effective partnerships between two- and four-year schools.

Other institutions named in the IMPACT STEM network include Clemson, Howard, Florida State, Montana State and Michigan State Universities, as well as the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Not only is this an amazing opportunity for us to work together locally, but joining the diverse network of HHMI IE3 schools gives King, Northeast State, and Virginia Highlands a seat at the table for leading systemic change in science education,” said Kelly Vaughan, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of Biology for King, who serves as the program director for the grant. “We get to work with educators from all over the country to further identify and challenge the barriers faced by STEM transfer students.”

Joining Vaughan on the local leadership team are program co-director Nathan Weber, Ed.D., assistant vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of Biology at Northeast State; Laura Ong, Ph.D., associate professor of Biology at King; Martha Liendo, assistant professor of Mathematics at King; and Cindy Woosley, assistant professor of Biology at Virginia Highlands.

“I am excited to work with King, Northeast State, and all of the schools associated with this grant,” said Woosley. “Enhancing the diverse student population in STEM education allows for all voices to be heard and makes the disciplines truly representative. It’s a great opportunity for our students.”

The IE3 initiative challenges U.S. colleges and universities to build and sustain capacity on their campuses for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences. Significant disparities exist among college students, and first-generation students, transfers from two-year schools, and students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups are historically less likely to complete a baccalaureate degree. The IE3 initiative targets the introductory STEM experience, since that is when most STEM student departures occur, as noted in the HHMI announcement.

“We are delighted to have been selected for this initiative,” Weber said. “Together, members of our network have identified and focused on several areas in need of critical shifts. We look forward to establishing and developing meaningful relationships across campuses, creating scholarship opportunities, and empowering students through peer mentoring and academic preparation. These efforts will help forge inclusive student environments that promote the success of diverse STEM transfer students.”

For more information about the HHMI IE3 initiative, visit For more information about King University, visit

Laura Ong, Martha Liendo and Kelly Vaughan (L-R) Laura Ong, Martha Liendo and Kelly Vaughan
Nathan Weber Nathan Weber
Cindy Woosley Cindy Woosley