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Joe Bradley and team awarded nearly $3.5 million to develop pathway for underrepresented students in NSF STEM innovation program

Miranda Holloway
2/6/2020 10:00:00 AM

Joe Bradley, clinical assistant professor in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a member of a team who received almost $3.5 million to research and evaluate ways to develop infrastructure that improves diversity and inclusion in STEM entrepreneurship.

The National Science Foundation issued the award to the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, an organization dedicated to finding funding for historically underrepresented students seeking graduate education primarily in engineering and science.

Bradley is part of the research and evaluation team working on establishing new pathways for women and minority innovators in the NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) Program and how to remove barriers that may be keeping I-Corps participants from gaining an effective experience that encourages them to become STEM innovators. According to the NSF, I-Corps “connects scientific research with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities to help create a stronger national ecosystem for innovation …” and trains faculty and graduate students in entrepreneurship, teaching them how to reduce the time and risk of translating new discoveries to the marketplace. Bradley also is an alumnus of the I-Corps Program.

Only about 8 percent of U.S.-born STEM innovators are members of a racial or ethnic minority group, according to a 2016 study from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, and Bradley’s team says that may mean that many innovations and leaders are being left out of tech entrepreneurship.

“We anticipate that this research can help guide our understanding of the entrepreneurial formation for underrepresented minorities and women STEM entrepreneurs,” Bradley said. “It is my hope that the broader impacts of this research will assist and support URM [underrepresented minority] STEM scholars as they become more involved in the STEM entrepreneurship landscape, resulting in more diverse, affirming, and innovative solutions to pressing societal problems.”

Bradley and team are exploring best practices in creating pathways for underrepresented minorities in this field by looking at existing efforts; examining racial biases, power dynamics, and mindsets that may keep them from participating in programs; and learning how to best recruit and retain these participants in the program.

The team plans to use a variety of methods to identify targeted solutions for underrepresented minority entrepreneurs while taking intersectionality, racialized experiences, and business opportunity identification into consideration.

“I feel that, if we are going to solve significant problems, we need to make sure that we ask the right questions,” Bradley said. “Asking the right questions requires having diverse perspectives, which are going to be shaped by our many unique life experiences. The right questions will help us focus on the right opportunities, potentially unleashing the entrepreneurial capacity of all. We hope that this research will help identify those levers that will continue to open these entrepreneurial and innovation pathways in ways that are affirming and supportive.”

Marcus Huggans, executive director of client relations at the National GEM Consortium, serves as the principal investigator on the project. The research team also includes Jeffery Robinson, co-principal investigator on the project, associate professor and academic director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development, Rutgers University; Thema Monroe-White, assistant professor of Management, Berry College, Mount Berry, GA; Ebony McGee, associate professor of Education, Diversity and STEM Education, Vanderbilt University; Aileen Huang-Saad, assistant professor of Biomedical Education and of Engineering Education, University of Michigan; and Mary Harris, founder, president and CEO of BioTechnical Communications, Atlanta, GA.

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