Saint Xavier University
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Saint Xavier University's (SXU) EXPLORE STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program recently welcomed ESCALA Educational Services Inc. in February to facilitate a daylong retreat focused on culturally responsive teaching in the STEM classroom. ESCALA, which is Spanish for "striving," is a consortium of higher education consultants who are committed to increasing the graduation and retention rates of underrepresented students in higher education.

The retreat was led by Bindhu Alappat, Ph.D., department chair of Chemistry and Renee Beeton, Ph.D., and Virginia Padilla Vigil, Ph.D., both from ESCALA Educational Services Inc. Padilla-Vigil has 25 years of experience in inclusive, culturally responsive teaching and educational leadership spanning secondary, post-secondary and state government, and Beeton has over 15 years of experience working with equity and inclusion leadership in Hispanic Serving Institutions. STEM faculty and staff from SXU, City Colleges of Chicago, Dominican University, Joliet Junior College, Trinity College, Waubonsee Community College, Aurora University, College of DuPage and Northeastern Illinois University participated in various activities.

The workshops were fast-paced and highly interactive and featured demonstrations of brain-based classroom practices in action. Attendees worked together on strategic methods to help improve instructional clarity, bridge the gap in understanding between students and professors and build trust with students through instruction.

The facilitators stressed the importance of trust, especially at a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), as trust can be an issue in HSIs. Many students have experienced failure either individually or as part of a group on standardized assignments, and they may also score low on the ACT or SAT, which can lead to under-selection of courses in college. As a result, students have internalized a negative attitude about their ability to succeed. Professors discussed the ways they can help earn their students' trust by taking the mystery out of the process through clarity in instruction and assessment.

"The ESCALA retreat on culturally responsive teaching in STEM provided a wonderful experience for the participants and equipped us with incredible tools that will help personally and  professionally. Two expert facilitators discussed a broad range of materials on inclusive pedagogy with a balance of anecdotal and research-based content. Presenters and the participants shared great ideas and relevant resources. Overall, it was an incredibly positive learning experience," said Alappat.

Faculty and staff learned that culturally responsive teaching is not strange and unfamiliar, but something they should be invested in. "Culturally responsive teaching is good teaching. When we learn about how students learn best and apply incremental changes in the right direction, we are moving towards teaching that is not only effective, but also culturally responsive," said Padilla Vigil.  

SXU is proud of their faculty's mission to serve underrepresented students and their motivation and dedication to help students succeed through culturally responsive teaching.