The UMass Inclusive Excellence (IE) initiative challenges the campus to sustainably expand our capacity for high-impact learning experiences to increase the inclusion of all students, especially those students who belong to groups underrepresented in the sciences. This program was launched in 2018 with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to the College of Natural Sciences (CNS).

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In order to improve the academic success of students majoring in STEM disciplines, UMass IE aims to provide authentic research experiences to science majors, as part of a student’s first year curriculum and continuing into their upper division courses. Such research experiences will increase a student’s connection with peers and research scientists and will provide them with the research skills and abilities to view themselves as members of the scientific research community. UMass IE also engages, trains and supports CNS faculty and graduate students in inclusive teaching practices.

Program Highlights


Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) provide all students with the opportunity to engage in authentic scientific research as part of their mainstream (existing requirements) coursework. This has both the effect of being inclusive and of broadening the use of high-impact teaching practices.

For our first year CURE, UMass IE is offering SEA-PHAGES, a set of two discovery-based undergraduate research courses developed by the SEA-PHAGES consortium of colleges and universities. The first course of the sequence, Phage Discovery, guides pairs of students in the isolation and characterization of a unique bacteriophage from soil samples taken on campus. This process involves extensive experience with a range of microbiology techniques, electron microscopy for phage imaging, and DNA isolation and characterization. All of the newly isolated phage are archived in the National Actinobacteriophage database at the University of Pittsburgh.

In the second course, Phage Bioinformatics, students learn computational biological techniques through annotation and characterization of novel phage genomes. Students will be introduced to concepts in bioinformatics, microbiology, evolution, and molecular biology through hands-on computational experiments driven by results obtained during class. Genomes annotated during this course will be submitted to Genbank, the NIH genetic sequence database, an annotated collection of all publicly available DNA sequences.

Student Experiences to Date

In fall semester 2019, a team of instructors from the College of Natural Sciences successfully piloted the SEA-PHAGES curriculum with a group of second-year students who then served as undergraduate mentors for a class of first-generation, first-year students the following semester. Both of these groups successfully completed the phage discovery semester. In addition to mentoring the first-year students in the second semester, the fall 2019 second-year students successfully completed the bioinformatics-based second-semester course, annotating the sequenced genome of a phage isolated in the fall semester and publishing it in GenBank.

Feedback from students about their experiences was very positive with the vast majority of students reporting that they learned much more from this course than from traditional first-year biology lab courses.  They reported that they were more motivated to understand lab procedures and were provided ample opportunities to master technical skills, an opportunity generally lacking in traditional lab courses. Students appreciated that the work they were doing was part of a national research project and said that they felt they developed a solid appreciation for the rigor and effort required for research success.

The UMass IE SEA-PHAGES Instructor Team

Dr. Jessica Rocheleau, Biology
Dr. Randall Phillis, Biology
Dr. Peter Chien, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Dr. Sloan Siegrist, Microbiology
Elizabeth Punska, Biology

Upcoming IE Events

Fall 2022

CURE Community of Practice

The UMass HHMI Inclusive Excellence team is pleased to announce a CURE Community of Practice for faculty interested in learning more about how to design, develop and implement successful CUREs. This community will meet on a regular basis, as a group and through one-on-one mentoring, to discuss the development of CURE ideas. Please fill out this form and have your Head/Chair submit an email by October 10th, 2022 to indicate your interest.


Useful Links and Resources

Resources shared with faculty, staff and students in learning communities, keynotes, and workshops led by antiracism and diversity experts from around the country can be found on our Inclusive Excellence Resources page.

Click the links below to learn more about the HHMI Inclusive Excellence initiative, the SEA-PHAGES consortium, and the work of Inclusive Excellence at UMass:

A student pipetting in the lab

Inclusive Excellence Leadership Team

Elizabeth Connor
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Development
Inclusive Excellence Program Director

Jennifer Normanly
Head and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Randall Phillis
Associate Professor of Biology

Gabriela Weaver
Assistant Dean for Student Success Analytics and Professor of Chemistry

Leo Hwang
Assistant Academic Dean, CNS Advising

Barb Chalfonte
Executive Director, University Analytics & Institutional Research

We also recognize the invaluable contributions of our late colleague, Dr. Tracie Moniece Gibson, CNS Director of Student Success and Diversity.