2020 GIANT Project Selections

The Grassroots Initiatives to Address Needs Together (GIANT) program seeks to enable teams of students, postdocs, staff, and faculty to propose and implement research-based initiatives in the areas of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. In 2020, 14 high quality proposals were submitted to the 2020 GIANT program.

The IDEA Institute is excited to announce that seven projects were selected for funding.

2020 GIANT Project Teams 

Allies in STEM 

Team Members:

  • Samantha Rubeck (graduate student, Physics) 

This project is a a collaboration between GradSWE and SACNAS.

According to Rubeck, “We are implementing an allyship program targeting graduate STEM students who want to develop skills to be lifelong allies for underrepresented groups in STEM. The semester long program includes a half-day training workshop followed by a monthly discussion series. Educating graduate students about active allyship will enable them to set and achieve diversity and inclusion goals across UIUC and in their future career organizations.”

Building Confidence and Increasing Engagement through Undergraduate Research

Team Members:

  • Holly Golecki (Teaching faculty, Bioengineering)

According to Golecki, “Participation in undergraduate research opportunities (UROs) increases students’ understanding, confidence, and awareness of opportunities in STEM fields and their desire to pursue advanced degrees. However, a disproportionate number of University of Illinois students entering from low-resourced high schools participate. This grant seeks to provide UROs to students from one such population, the Academic Redshirt in Science and Engineering (ARISE) scholars, and investigate how hands- on, human centered design projects in soft robotics can impact students’ abilities to build technical competencies and confidence in engineering.”

Decreasing Barriers for Underrepresented Groups by Clarifying Expectations in Graduate School

Team Members:

  • Raul Platero (graduate student, Computer Science)

“Students from underrepresented groups (URGs) encounter many unique challenges in computer science (CS) graduate programs, such as limited access to mentors. This lack of mentorship can inhibit students from identifying the expectations they must fulfill in order to be successful. Our study aims to understand the challenges CS graduate students from URGs face in accessing expectations and mentorship in hope of highlighting ways that engineering institutions can better support all students.”

Identifying Misconceptions of Access of Underrepresented Groups in Engineering (IMAGINE)

Team Members:


  • Lara Hebert (staff member, Grainger College of Engineering) 


This project is in partnership with the DREAAM community organization. According to Hebert, “Family engagement is key to the college success of minority students in STEM. Grainger Engineering’s WYSE program and the DREAAM program will enlist families of 5th/6th graders as key partners in broadening STEM participation by developing, implementing, and studying a series of family nights titled, “Engineering Myth Busters.” Participants will discuss common misconceptions about access to engineering and engage in hands-on STEM activities facilitated by engineering students.”



Using Study Partners to Broaden Participation

Team Members:

  • Suma Bhat (Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering)

“Because students have increased chances of succeeding if they feel a sense of belonging, we aim to examine the effects of pairing students with a study partner in two mid-level core courses: CS241 and ECE310. In particular, we will study female and/or minority students as these two groups face unique challenges in engineering.”

Cena y Ciencias: A Model for Family-Centered Outreach in Underserved Communities

Team Members:

  • Sharlene Denos (Staff member, Center for the Physics of Living Cells) 

The Cena y Ciencias project is in partnership with SACNAS and SHPE, “This grant will allow the Cena y Ciencias partnership to gather data on its effectiveness and impact toward increasing attitudes and self-efficacy of Latinx community members and university student mentors in STEM. Results will be used to develop a model for effective family-centered community outreach in STEM.”

Three-pronged Approach for Retention of Underrepresented Minority Students

Team Members:

  • Jamie Clark (graduate student, Civil and Environmental Engineering) 

This project is a collaboration between NSBE and GEDI, “This proposal tackles the question of how to create a stable support system for both undergraduate and graduate underrepresented minority (URM) students in STEM fields. This program is meant to improve the longevity of URM registered student organizations by aggregating resources and developing a stronger collective voice.”