SEA Change
AAAS STEM Equity Achievement


Questions & Answers

What is SEA Change trying to address?

The science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical (STEM) communities have not welcomed and fully incorporated the diversity of talent available in our larger population of individuals who would be interested and have promise to succeed in STEM. The historical reasons for this are varied but include stereotyping of roles for women and people of color, and discrimination based on those stereotypes, leading to limited access to educational pathways, careers, and opportunity in STEM. This has undermined its excellence. Though there has been improvement over the past several decades, structural barriers persist in society and in STEM fields, which have a climate and culture that can be exclusionary.

For decades, our educational institutions have relied on “intervention programs” to address issues of broadening participation in STEM. Programs have often focused on “fixing the students or faculty” and have been developed outside of the regular structures of the institution or the departments, supported by external grants and overly dependent on the effort and advocacy of STEM professionals from groups affected by exclusion.

SEA Change proposes to support a movement toward institutional transformation, beyond small-scale interventions, to focus institutions on identifying the systems, policies, processes, programs, and practices that perpetuate exclusion and create barriers to diversity and inclusion. SEA Change encourages and recognizes institutions for finding and removing barriers “baked into the system” of education and research, and replacing them with systems providing opportunities for advisement, mentoring, research, and advancement via teaching practices, curriculum and inclusive conduct in STEM to promote the full participation of talent from all groups within society.

How would an institution benefit from a "fix the system" approach like SEA Change?

Advancing true diversity, equity, and inclusion requires efforts towards systemic transformation necessary to ensure that, regardless of demographic and identity characteristics unrelated to capability and performance in STEM, all talented individuals can be recruited, retained, and advanced in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. A commitment to adopt and implement inclusive policies and systems that are driven by institutional mission while also satisfying legal standards has the potential to lead to a range of benefits for an institution over time, including (but not limited to):

  • Enhancing the quality of learning at, and work produced by, the institution
  • Improving student and faculty progression along STEM pathways
  • Removing structural and systemic barriers impeding individuals who have been the target of bias, marginalization, and exclusion which impedes advancement of quality research and education
  • Enhancing teaching methods across the institution that have been demonstrated to be more effective for and inclusive of all students
  • Increasing awareness of bias, marginalization, and inequity among all populations in the institution, creating a community which is attractive to potential students, new faculty and staff, and prospective employers of the institution’s degree-holders
  • Attracting, engaging, retaining, and supporting the success of all talented individuals
  • Signaling commitment to diversity and inclusion as important values, thus positively affecting reputation of the institution for those considering support and/or affiliation
  • Promoting systematic, institutional assessment of factors related to legal compliance, as one aspect—not the driver—of effective and sustainable policies and practices
  • Demonstrating an institutional environment that is striving to become healthy and supportive for all members of its community, thus promoting higher potential return on investment to donors and funders and maximizing contributions to society

What does it mean to commit to the SEA Change Principles? Is SEA Change a quota program?

Not at all. Participating in the SEA Change self-assessment process is a commitment to the SEA Change Principles. These are statements of principle and performance goals allowing an institution or department to acknowledge systemic diversity and equity issues and commit to addressing them. The commitment is to definitive self-determined action, self-monitoring, evaluation, adjustments, and periodic reporting of actions and progress to obtain and retain certification. The focus is on impact—both in contributing to the value proposition of equity and diversity as drivers of experience and perspectives needed for excellence, and quantitative.

Far from encouraging an institution to meet a "quota," the focus of SEA Change is on identifying and modifying the institutional and departmental governance, accountability, resource allocation, climate, enrollment, hiring, promotion, retention and other structures, systems and processes that pose barriers to inclusion of all talent.

What do the Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels mean?

A first-time Bronze award recognizes: 1) in-depth, data-rich self-assessment of institutional makeup (STEM faculty and students), policies, culture, and climate using evidence-based analytical methods, in a disaggregated fashion whenever possible, that allow insights into gender, race/ethnicity, and other factors that have typically been the targets of bias, as well as their intersectionality; 2) identifying “data gaps” or other gaps in institutional knowledge and describing methods that will be used to collect missing information; 3) identifying significant barriers related to bias, equity, and inclusion; and (4) developing an action plan with definitive steps to address these issues.

Silver awards recognize an institution or department for demonstrating the impact of actions actually taken, as well as completing all requirements for the Bronze.

Gold awards are really special! They recognize institutions or departments for doing all the work of Bronze and Silver, demonstrating major transformation in structures and systems and associated advances in equity and barrier removal, while also creating and disseminating lessons learned and otherwise actively helping other groups in academia with their efforts. These awardees are active champions of diversity, inclusion and equity, and serve as models to others.

How is SEA Change defining STEM?

There are many different interpretations of science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics fields. SEA Change is using the NSF definition of STEM: “chemistry, computer and information technology science, engineering, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, social, behavior, and economic sciences, and STEM education and learning.” Keeping with AAAS definitions, practice, and governance, we are also including medicine and the health sciences. While we confine our current work to STEM fields, we can envision a time when, in partnership, such a system will move beyond these fields.

What's the difference between Institutional and Departmental Awards?

For the purposes of SEA Change, an "Institution" is everything that falls under a single Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) ID. Truly transformative, systemic change means closely examining not only the quantitative aspects, the numbers, but also the qualitative ones—the underlying structures, systems, policies, practices, climate, and culture at an institution. The focus is on governance, accountability, resource allocation, climate, enrollment, hiring, promotion, retention and other structures, systems and processes that pose barriers to inclusion of all talent. Using an iterative approach based on self-assessment — not comparisons across institutions — the SEA Change certification (Awards) recognize institutions for asking tough questions, using an evidence-based approach to find answers, and taking action on an ongoing basis.

Institutional awards focus primarily on overall structures, systems, policies and practices, climate, and the makeup of faculty and administrators. Exploration of the graduate student and undergraduate student populations is cursory, because it is recognized that the most meaningful, in-depth assessment of student issues is likely done at the departmental or school level due to the individuality and high impact of each discipline’s leadership, governance structures, processes, faculty, and culture.

Individual departments may apply for Departmental SEA Change Awards, which will be developed in partnership with our disciplinary society affiliates. In this case, "Department" is defined by the applicant. Depending on goals and size, this can be a single department, a program, or even a college within an institution. A department can receive a Bronze, but can go no further without the home institution holding an Institutional Bronze Award or above.

Departmental awards mirror and are aligned with the institutional awards; however, while the institutional awards address administration, overall structural, policy, and systems issues, the departmental awards ask self-assessment teams to examine the teaching, learning and research experiences of undergraduate majors and minors, any undergraduates enrolled in their courses, graduate students, and faculty within the unique lens of a particular STEM field. Most of the deep structural and systemic change occurs within the departments, though this is made possible by the structural and systems changes implemented at the institutional level.

Institutions cannot receive an Institutional Gold award without having at least two Gold Department awards.

What about medical schools or health science centers?

Recognizing that each institution is unique, some have a health science center (HSC) or medical school that is largely autonomous—or is a uniquely large and self-supporting component of an institution, constituting about half or more of the institution’s budget or research volume, having the use of substantial faculty practice plan revenues, and meeting the institution’s policy requirements but with the ability to set higher standards and create consistent, tailored processes. If such an HSC or medical school wishes to apply for an Institutional Award, SEA Change will consider that request. The structure of SEA Change will be evolving, iteratively, based on the needs of the higher education sector and lessons learned from our pilot.

What is the process for keeping an award (or getting a higher one)?

SEA Change is an iterative process and one that enables sustainable change by encouraging periodic evaluation and adjustment for high impact. The goal is to keep moving forward! There will always be some more work to do, new evidence and enhancements to incorporate into an action plan, new biases to focus on. To that end, SEA Change requires awardees to reapply for an award after five years. Administration changes, new strategic plans, reallocated priorities, external developments - all of these things happen and SEA Change also recognizes that continuous improvement is a key attribute of excellence. Reapplication aims to mitigate the impact of internal and external change, as well as to meet the challenge of sustaining advancement.

Every five years, current award-holders must submit a new application. To remain at the Bronze level, progress on the first action plan should be documented. If sufficient impact has been documented, then it's time to apply to progress to a new award level. If an institution or department is not given an award, they will be given guidance and a year's grace period to resubmit an enhanced application before losing their award designation. The focus is on supporting success!

What if we submit an application and we don't receive an award?

We never release the names of applicants—unless they do so publicly first or consent. Also, where high effort and good work initially invested indicates this would be productive, we will implement a grace period for applications to be supplemented and reconsidered during the next review. Thus, if your institution or department does not receive an award, there will be no intent to make it headline news and applicants will typically have an opportunity to incorporate feedback and ask for reconsideration. In addition, all reviewers and participating panelists also sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Reviewers will provide extensive feedback for unsuccessful initial applications, pointing out strengths and areas for improvement. The point of SEA Change is to affect real change, and that can only be done by moving institutions and departments forward in a positive and forthright way toward success.

How many institutions are in the pilot?

We had 3 institutions in the 1st wave cohort, and currently have 6-9 in the 2nd wave cohort. They are a mix of private and public institutions, some with MSI, HSI, and HBCU designation. They run the gamut from R1 research institutions to primarily undergraduate institutions.

Can my institution join the pilot?

Yes! To be a part of the pilot you must submit an application in 2019. There will be an upper limit on the total number of applicants for each year, so if your institution wants to be a part of shaping this initiative (and deferring eventual SEA Change membership costs for a few years!) it is best to declare intent. Please do so here:

What do I need to do to officially join the pilot?

  1. Gather potential members of an institutional self-assessment team as well as the high-level administrators that will need to buy-in. We can provide an introductory slide set about SEA Change for you to use.

  2. Contact SEA Change staff to set up a call to answer any lingering questions. It is best to email Beth Ruedi (bruedi @, Michael Feder (mfeder @ or Shirley Malcom (smalcom @ directly.

  3. Watch this space for an announcement about an in-person (and webcast) "SEA Change 101" workshop to be held in the beginning of May in Washington, DC.

  4. Declare intent to participate using this form:

  5. Be sure to join the online community for SEA Change housed within the AAAS member community (formerly Trellis): . To do so, email seachange @ for instructions. This platform is where we provide all the latest versions of the pilot documents.

  6. Finally, submit a Letter of Intent on or before May 15, 2019. An example of an LOI can be found on the community mentioned in #5.

When will departmental awards begin?

We are currently working with disciplinary societies as they help develop discipline-specific departmental award criteria. Several disciplines will be piloting departmental awards in 2020. We will keep this space updated as we put processes in place!

What does "evidence-based" mean in the context of the SEA Change application?

Too often, well-meaning groups try to jump from identifying a problem to taking action. SEA Change recognizes institutions and departments for making the effort to truly understand the root of their diversity and equity issues, and exploring available research to find evidence for successful actions they might take to sustainably remove barriers and gain the benefits of equity and diversity for all. What works well for one campus most likely will not work as well for another; this is true for program implementation, data collection, and action plans. At the same time, ideas for system and structure design from one campus may be adaptable to other campuses and lessons can be learned from others’ experience. SEA Change intends to facilitate knowledge sharing and support.

What is the purpose of the SEA Change action plan?

For colleges and universities to realize the goals of providing a safe, affordable place for scholarship to flourish, of cultivating a diverse faculty and student community, they must transform their structure and systems to support these goals. They must replace traditions, policies, programs, and practices that are outdated with those that research has shown to be effective in promoting diversity and inclusion. Only self-reflection and self-assessment can move institutions toward that kind of transformation.

SEA Change asks institutions and departments to develop their own institution- and department- appropriate SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-oriented) action plans to accomplish these goals. Recertification or progression is based on documented implementation of these actions and resulting impacts.