Details for 2021

The Vassar Grand Challenges program—in collaboration with ALANA and Transitions—seeks applications for its Summer Catalyst Research Experience in 2021. Grand Challenges is a five-year initiative of curricular innovation, faculty development, and community engagement at Vassar College, founded in 2018 with the help of a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, whose aim is to foster inclusive excellence in STEM education at the college. The Grand Challenges student catalyst group is a dynamic team of student leaders who have been instrumental in shaping the program, and making Vassar a more welcoming place to teach and learn science. The Catalyst Research Experience will engage 6 students for 8 weeks in research and outreach projects at the heart of the Grand Challenges vision of a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive community of scientists. Recent project topics include:

  • A research project aimed at cultivating inclusive online learning spaces, in the time of COVID and remote learning.
  • Efforts to reach out to first year students to help them get involved and feel welcome on campus.
  • A project on sense of belonging: What does it mean to belong in science at Vassar? What is conducive to belonging, and why is it essential to our community?
  • Building partnerships with allied organizations and initiatives across campus, including EPI, Transitions, and the ALANA center.

Participants in the summer program will work closely with faculty and staff mentors and peers to learn about the dynamics of institutional leadership and development, and the history and conceptual foundations of the Inclusive Excellence model. Students will engage collaboratively, critically, and creatively in the development of a project, and gain leadership experience, as well as valuable insights into the process of preparing and evaluating research grants. Most importantly, summer catalysts will play a central role in helping to build community around science and math.

Who: Vassar rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors interested in diversity and inclusion in science and math, and in building a stronger scientific community at Vassar. We would like to support six students in Summer 2021.

What: An 8-week full time paid research and outreach experience, working closely with faculty, staff, and peer mentors to design a project on inclusive science education. Investigate the dynamics of institutional leadership and change; learn about the process of preparing and evaluating grant proposals; engage in community outreach; develop presentation skills, and persuasive writing skills; build your résumé. Students will work collaboratively and remotely, may be based on or off campus.

Program runs June 21–August 13, stipend is $3360. The position is a full time position, with regular group/team meetings held Mon–Fri in an online virtual environment. Opportunities to present work at the annual URSI fall symposium.


Applications will be accepted beginning March 1, 2021, until March 12, 2021. Selection will be competitive, based on an applicant’s potential to contribute to the goals of the program and to the long-term vision of the Grand Challenges program, and to become a leader and representative for inclusive excellence on campus and beyond.