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Dartmouth launches $100 million STEM initiative to support underrepresented students

The Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H.Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for the Boston Globe

Dartmouth College launched a $100 million initiative Tuesday night “to improve the success and leadership of historically underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and prepare the next generation of scientists,” according to a press release.

Philip Hanlon, president of Dartmouth College, announced the initiative at a forum for alumni, technology leaders, and entrepreneurs in San Francisco, according to the release.

The initiative, called Dartmouth STEM-X, aims to provide financial resources, scholarships, academic support, and social support to underrepresented students in STEM, namely students of color, first-generation students, and women. Sixty million dollars has been invested in STEM-X so far, in large part from Dartmouth alumnus and TPG Capital co-founder James Coulter and his wife Penny Coulter, who gifted $25 million toward the initiative, according to an e-mail statement from a Dartmouth spokesperson. The remaining $35 million was gathered through gifts from other alumni, and the college has yet to raise the last $40 million, according to the release.

In a phone interview with the Globe, Hanlon said STEM-X is the culmination of a years-long mission to not only attract diverse talent to Dartmouth, but ensure they feel supported once they’re at the school.

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“What we know is that there’s not equal representation in STEM fields both on the gender side and on race and ethnicity,” Hanlon said in the interview. “We want to make sure that we attract and we encourage and we motivate the entire broad range of talent here in the US and on our campus.”

STEM-X is part of a larger plan called “Toward Equity,” which is “a cohesive diversity, equity, and inclusivity strategic plan across both academic and administrative areas of the institution,” according to the press release. Hanlon said STEM-X will build upon and improve preexisting programs bolstering and supporting diversity including the E. E. Just Program — which is named after 1907 alum Ernest Everett Just and aims to “support underrepresented minorities at Dartmouth” pursuing STEM through mentorship, internship, and community-building opportunities, according to the Dartmouth College website — and the Women in Science Project, which also provides mentorship and community, as well as research opportunities and other supports.

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The $100 million STEM-X initiative will also improve career and graduate school advising, “as well as an expansion of Dartmouth’s undergraduate policy of meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need to fifth-year bachelor of engineering degree candidates,” according to an announcement on Dartmouth’s website.

STEM-X will also create something new: the Coulter Scholars Program. Named after James and Penny Coulter following their gift to STEM-X, the program will be a “16-member, four-year cohort and academic enrichment experience to recruit and develop the students’ potential in STEM disciplines and prepare them for lives of leadership and impact,” according to a Dartmouth spokesperson. “The program will support students academically, personally, and professionally, and includes generous scholarship support for those who qualify for financial aid from Dartmouth.”

Hanlon said in the press release that “American innovation benefits greatly when diverse perspectives are applied to a problem, and yet the pipeline of advanced-degree recipients in STEM from underrepresented groups falls far short of representation levels in our society.”

“The Coulters join us in tackling this challenge and improving the US innovation ecosystem through the development of a broad-based and diverse talent pool,” he said.

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Alexis Abramson, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, said STEM-X also aims to make curricular improvements. The $100 million will, in part, fund “workforce development,” and bring in experts that have done research in STEM to help guide new courses to be offered to students, Abramson said in an interview with the Globe.

“The new $100 million funds are going to help us do what we’re doing today, but on steroids,” Abramson said. “That next level hopefully will make underserved students feel more comfortable and more confident and want to come to Dartmouth College to get this STEM plus liberal arts experience that’s really hard to get in other places.”

To guide this multi-pronged initiative, Dartmouth is on the hunt for a new “executive director for undergraduate STEM diversity,” Hanlon said in an interview with the Globe. This person will be tasked with bringing preexisting and new diversity programs at the school of arts and sciences, engineering, and medical school under one roof. Hanlon said he hopes STEM-X will show students the “beauty and power” of STEM, and encourage and motivate students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue education and career paths in those fields.

“What we’ve been able to do through the generosity of many people, particularly our alums who are business leaders, is to really build on and accelerate these important programs that have been successful at Dartmouth,” Hanlon said in the interview. “This is going to be great for the world because our graduates are going to go out and do awesome things.”

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Katie Mogg can be reached at katie.mogg@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @j0urnalistkatie