2021 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. 15 high quality proposals were submitted to the 2021 GIANT program.

The IDEA Institute is excited to announce that eight new phase 1 projects and four continuing phase 2 projects were selected for funding.

2021 GIANT Project Teams 

Phase 1 Projects

Peer Mentorship in a Virtual University Setting 

Team Members:

  • Federico Cifuentes-Urtubey (graduate student, Computer Science) 
  • Paola Baldaguez Medina (graduate student, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering) 
  • Julie Lorenzo (graduate student, Civil Engineering)  

A collaboration between MEP and SHPE,  the mentorship program will guide undergraduates from underrepresented groups through graduate school pathways by pairing them with a graduate student mentor in their field. Mentoring pairs will interact through professional and academic development workshops to increase cultural competency and to enhance their abilities in translating academic skills into teamwork environments.

By building a sense of community around graduate school, our study aims to address barriers that URM students face towards applying to graduate school and increase their chances of acceptance into graduate STEM programs.

MatSE Afterschool Academy 

Team Members:

  • André Schleife (Associate Professor, Materials Science & Engineering) 
  • Paola Baldaguez Medina (graduate student, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering) 
  • Julie Lorenzo (graduate student, Civil Engineering)  

With the MatSE Afterschool Academy, the team will establish an online program to illustrate the field of Materials Science and Engineering to juniors from under-resourced high schools, discuss future career options, and prepare participants to apply to Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by establishing close and lasting relationships with MatSE mentors before their college career.

Applying a theoretical understanding of text-based learning modalities to develop new course modalities that meet the needs of student with disabilities

Team Members:

  • Hongye Liu (Teaching faculty, Computer Science) 

Students with disabilities face numerous additional challenges when digital content is inaccessible or difficult to use. In collaboration with BIOE, ISE, and Statistics, the team project will study the preferred characteristics and usage of text-based materials from the student and instructor perspective and develop into ClassTranscribe ebooks. The team will assess such intervention with special focus on students with disabilities while applying to all students/instructors.

WYSE Trail Blazers

Team Members:

  • Lara Herbert (Program Coordinator, Grainger College of Engineering’s Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE)) 

This initiative is a collaboration of students in WYSE, WIE, and MEP. WYSE Summer Camps serve hundreds of students each summer, a growing proportion of which receives Trail Blazer scholarships for campers from underrepresented populations in STEM. This project aims (1) to increase our understanding of the role engineering summer camps plays in decisions to pursue STEM careers, and (2) to develop special programming for scholarship recipients to build community and encourage the pursuit of STEM careers.

REACH Projector: Remote Embodiment for Augmented Collaborative Help

Team Members:

  • Casey Smith (Director of Instructional Support, Electrical & Computer Engineering Assistant)

This project is in collaboration with researchers in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. It seeks to ask the question: “How do distributed maker communities help students develop their identities as future engineers if they are unable to find help and mentorship?” This project aims to address the need for collaboration support mechanisms in our community makerspaces through co-developing outreach activities using a novel projection device that allows users to talk and share gestures around a common artifact while in separate locations.

Rising Scholars@Illinois – a High School Physics Mentorship Program

Team Members:

  • Patrick Snyder (Staff member, Physics department) 

This program is in partnership with the Society for Women in Physics (SWIP) and the Society of Physics Students (SPS). This is an online pilot program designed to provide high-quality physics and mathematics mentoring and tutoring services at no cost to high school students who need it most. This program aims to address diversity in STEM by supporting the development of a student’s confidence and identity as a scientist. 

Leadership and Excellence in Engineering Pathways (LEEP) 

Team Members:

  • Joan Brown (Academic Advisor, Electrical & Computer Engineering)

Designing an Inclusive Language Framework that Cultivates Inclusive Cultures for Black Students, Faculty, and Staff

Team Members:

  • Tiffani Williams (Teaching faculty, Computer Science) 

Language creates the norms and cultures of communities and perpetuates inequities in education. This grant seeks to explore the perceptions of Black students, faculty, and staff about inclusive language used in engineering spaces and develop an inclusive language framework to foster inclusive cultures to support the recruitment and retention of Black engineers. 

Phase 2 Projects

Building Confidence and Engagement through Undergraduate Research

Team Members:

  • Holly Golecki (Teaching faculty, Bioengineering)

Participation in undergraduate research opportunities increases students’ awareness of opportunities in STEM fields and their desire to pursue advanced degrees. Building on the success of providing opportunities for ARISE students in phase 1, this project aims to extend mentored undergraduate research opportunities to students from the Illinois chapters of NSBE and SHPE. The team will investigate how hands-on, human-centered design projects in soft robotics can impact students’ abilities to build technical competencies and confidence in engineering.

Allies in STEM

Team Members:

  •  Samantha Rubeck (graduate student, Phyiscs) 
  • Jazmin Aguilar-Romero (graduate student, Chemistry)

Allies in STEM is a collaboration between GradSWE, SHPE, and SACNAS. The allyship program will consist of six workshops in a semester-long discussion series held in early Spring 2022. The discussion series will provide a space to challenge and understand unearned advantages in STEM, educate participants about common challenges for minoritized students, and inspire participants to become better allies.


IMAGINE ABCs (Identifying Myths of Access for underrepresented Groups IN Engineering: Apprenticeship Builds Community)

Team Members:

  • Laura Herbert (Program Coordinator, Grainger College of Engineering’s Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE)) 

This project is a collaboration of WYSE and community partners DREAAM (Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement in Males), and UNCC (Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center).

We believe it takes a village, starting with family. IMAGINE ABCs will build on the success of 2020-21 IMAGINE Family STEM Nights, engaging 5th-8th grade families to demystify engineering and barriers to STEM careers. Phase 2 will develop additional STEM Nights modules to fully represent GCOE’s engineering fields, disseminate curriculum online, and mentor new organizations to facilitate these IMAGINE modules.

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

Team Members:

  • Sharlene Denos (Staff member, Physics department)  

This project is a collaboration between the University, local school districts, and student organizations SACNAS and SHPE. The Cena y Ciencias program brings together Latinx scientist role models to engage, in Spanish, with youth and their families in monthly science events. This grant will support the evaluation of key aspects of the program on children, families, schools, and University student volunteers, providing insights into best practices for family-centered outreach.