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Increasing Accessibility and Inclusivity in IFT’s Scholarship Program

Purpose of the project

IFT’s Feeding Tomorrow Foundation’s scholarship program was originally established in 1985. A team was convened in 2021 to evaluate the current scholarship program to understand what barriers are preventing students from applying, determine changes that can be made to create a more inclusive and equitable program and define new scholarship opportunities and criteria that attracts participation from all students pursuing careers in the science of food. 

Summary of approach 

  • Assembled a scholarship team comprised of IFT board members and facilitated by IFT staff that was charged with examining the current scholarship portfolio 
  • Created a set of guiding principles to ensure the team remained aligned and focused on the same end goal
  • Developed a problem statement that illuminated what we were trying to solve and barriers that may hinder our ability to reach the identified solution 
  • Outlined constraints, boundaries, and what success would look like in three years, which provided a framework for future evaluation and program growth
  • Gathered data and best practices from existing sources including IFT’s Academic Knowledge Base Research, the National Fellowship Providers Association, and more 
  • Interviewed constituents representing students, industry, and academia, to gain insights on barriers students may experience in the current process 
  • Developed recommendations to enhance the scholarship program  
  • Concluded with a meaningful discussion around lessons learned and the importance of removing barriers for students from all backgrounds 

Outcomes

Changes to the scholarship program focused on two key areas: increasing eligibility for scholarships and making the application process more accessible.

  • Revamped the scholarship application to increase accessibility to students whose first language is not English. We made sure the language was clear and concise. We also reviewed the process so we could increase clarity and eliminate unnecessary steps
  • Removed the letter of recommendation requirement, which was found to have different connotations for international and U.S.-based students
  • Implemented essay choice, allowing students to choose the prompt that will enable them to showcase their knowledge to the best of their ability 
  • Reviewed the application itself to remove any unnecessary barriers to completion and worked to increase awareness efforts by enlisting scholarship recipient ambassadors and academic coordinators to help spread the word to more students. The team also conducted a diversity, equity, and inclusion audit with its scholarship vendor to address potential bias and increase transparency
  • Added 14 new scholarships for students enrolled in programs that are not currently approved by the IFT Higher Education Review Board. Four of those new scholarships are specifically designated for first-year students   
  • Established a team that is working on creating more targeted scholarship opportunities for future academic years
  • Committed to conducting an annual stakeholder review of the scholarship program to ensure we continue addressing barriers to access as the needs of future students evolve 

Challenges  

  • Ensuring everyone on the team was approaching the problem from a similar vantage point in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, including understanding biases and speaking the same language 
  • Obtaining accurate insights and information to inform decision-making rather than relying on preconceived notions and personal experience alone 
  • Determining what we mean by diversity in this process: who we are not reaching, why, and how we can change that 
  • Creating awareness of our offerings among students who could benefit the most, including international, low-income students, and non-traditional students 

Key takeaways 

  • Words matter. We learned to be mindful about the assumptions behind key concepts and requirements and be explicit about what we really mean with words such as diversity, best and brightest, and access.  
  • Decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. It is imperative to seek out credible data and input from those who are directly impacted in order to effect meaningful change. 
  • Cultural differences exist in more ways than one might imagine. In our case, this is particularly true when addressing an international audience, so extra care is needed to create equitable opportunities for all.  
  • Change can be difficult, especially if you have pre-existing beliefs about how something should be, but it is necessary for growth and to have the most significant impact on the people who need it most. 

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