Monmouth College has received a major grant to help make higher education more inclusive for STEM students.

The $470,666 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland will be used to create a seamless transfer pathway for Illinois Central College students from underrepresented backgrounds who wish to earn bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and science at Monmouth College. The College is among 104 schools to receive a six-year grant through the Institute’s $60 million Inclusive Excellence initiative. The initiative challenges colleges and universities to build capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.


“The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the world’s leaders in biomedical research and support of education in the biomedical fields. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant is, in the higher education world, equivalent to an Oscar or Grammy,” said Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt. “Receiving this award affirms the creative work of our faculty and staff and recognizes Monmouth’s focus on empowering its students.” Wyatt said the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant also advances several key elements of Monmouth’s strategic plan, including enriching the College’s curricular experience and positioning the College to attract and serve students who begin their college careers at two-year institutions.

For Mark Willhardt, Monmouth Vice President for Academic Affairs, it was especially rewarding to receive the grant because so much faculty effort went into making it a reality.

“Faculty have been pursuing this since before the pandemic, so it is great to see their dedication pay off – literally, with the grant, and figuratively, for all the terrific students the grant will support,” he said. Their goal is to create a program on Monmouth’s campus by this summer that will introduce incoming ICC students to math and research.

“Students would be involved in a real research project, getting data and doing some math,” said biology professor Eric Engstrom, who worked on the grant proposal. “They’d get to see what real research is like. Some students may have never experienced that.”

Math is part of the equation because of the hurdle it traditionally represents for interest in disciplines connected to science, technology, engineering and math, popularly known as STEM.

“We’ve chosen mathematics as our pivot point,” said Engstrom. “Math is the great intimidator. A student might be interested in a subject until they realize there’s math involved. We have to work on this. Math is something anyone can successfully learn.”