Project Leadership

Program Director
Professor Tracy Johnson


The UCLA Building Excellence for STEM Transfers (BEST) program is supported by an Inclusive Excellence grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). This program focuses on strengthening the transition from community college to UCLA. Transfer students make up 36% of the student pool and contribute significantly to the diversity of UCLA undergraduates. About 34% of UCLA transfer students come from underrepresented minority groups; over 40% of the transfer students are first generation college students; and 50% are or have been federal Pell grant recipients, among the highest in the nation among elite institutions.

While UCLA has a history of innovative programs that promote inclusive excellence for STEM students, these have largely focused on direct entry students. UCLA’s BEST is focused on ensuring that transfer students have equal access to a high quality STEM education that supports their persistence in STEM majors and increases their entrée into a range of STEM careers. All of these activities will be enhanced through coordinated data collection, analysis, and dissemination among campus stakeholders to build institutional capacity, which will benefit all students.

Press Release

UCLA has been awarded a five-year $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as part of its Inclusive Excellence initiative. The effort aims to help colleges and universities encourage participation and cultivate the talent of students in the natural sciences, especially underrepresented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students and working adults with families.

UCLA will use the funding to reinvigorate undergraduate education, especially for transfer students, so that larger numbers of undergraduates receive an “authentic research experience” in which their education is collaborative, interactive and evidence-based, with a focus on problem-solving, said Tracy Johnson, a professor who holds the Maria Rowena Ross Chair of Cell Biology and Biochemistry, an HHMI Professor and director of the new program.

“We are revitalizing the life sciences curriculum and enabling more undergraduates to be motivated and engaged in science while working side-by-side with faculty and graduate students,” Johnson said. “Hands-on research experience for undergraduates in the sciences is crucial, and we are developing new ways to make sure the best and brightest students — and UCLA has many of the best undergraduates in the country — receive the world-class education they deserve.”

With the HHMI grant, Johnson wants UCLA to offer more research-based courses that enable students to learn science by doing science. UCLA will also use funding from the grant to expand workshops in which faculty in the life sciences and physical sciences learn highly effective, interactive teaching practices that will help to retain more students in the sciences. Undergraduates who engage in research stay in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields at a higher rate than students who do not. Transfer students have participated in research at a substantially lower rate than other undergraduates, Johnson said. Ensuring the success of transfer students in STEM fields is a major goal of UCLA’s HHMI-funded program.

– Click here for the full press release featured in the UCLA Newsroom.

Project Components

UCLA’s Center for Education Innovation & Learning in the Sciences (CEILS), working directly with the Deans of Life and Physical Sciences, will coordinate the Institute for Inclusive STEM Education. This teaching development activity will help UCLA faculty increase their awareness of classroom climate issues that disproportionately affect the success and persistence of diverse students in STEM, including transfer students, as well as provide faculty agency to engage in instructional practices that support an inclusive learning environments for all students.

The inaugural Institute for Inclusive STEM Education was held May 10-11, 2018.  The next institute will be in March 2019.

For more information about the institutes, please contact CEILS Director, Professor Erin Sanders O’Leary (

Exploration of Careers & Orientation to Research in Life Sciences

Based upon experiences with several highly successful curricular programs targeting direct entry students, we will provide analogous opportunities for transfer students in their first year at UCLA. We will launch a course (LS 110) that provides skills in time management, knowledge about academic culture, lab tours, research talks (by other transfer students and faculty), structured learning and advising activities designed to raise awareness of research opportunities on campus and as a career option, and broader exploration of STEM careers.

For more information about this course, please contact the instructor, Dr. Rachel Kennison (

Pathways to Life Science Majors

The Life Sciences Core (LS Core) Curriculum was recently restructured to remove barriers transfer students face in accessing Life Science major coursework, course-based research experiences, and apprenticeship-based research opportunities. To leverage this restructuring, partnerships with community colleges will be formalized to ensure that the curricular changes meet the needs of transfer students. New LS Core course material will be developed in collaboration with community college partners.

For more information about the curriculum, please contact the LS Core Chair, Professor Frank Laski (

To support transfer students from Day 1, we will establish the Academic Excellence Boot Camp for Bruins in STEM that will familiarize students with UCLA and foster development of student learning communities.

For more information about participating in this boot camp, please contact the program coordinator, Dr. Debra Pires (

The UCLA Building Excellence in STEM (BEST) leadership team, with support from the UCLA Center for Educational Assessment (CEA), will develop a dashboard (i.e. integrated assessment data repository) that will be used to evaluate and compare our student and program outcomes using input data from numerous sources. By fostering transparency and reducing campus data silos, the dashboard will facilitate rapid sharing of data and provide a more detailed perspective of transfer student pathways and potential barriers to transfer student academic success.

This analytical tool will be disseminated to improve data management for all UCLA student programs. Achievement of project milestones will serve as evidence for change in UCLA’s capacity for inclusion. In this way, this HHMI-funded project will allow us to build capacity for better data sharing and provide a mechanism by which to identify the intersections, synergies, and gaps in the existing infrastructure supporting STEM student success across campus.

For more information about dashboard development efforts, please contact our assessment director, Dr. Marc Levis-Fitzgerald (

In addition to publications related to this specific project, we will develop and share a multimedia, online presentation called UCLA Strategies for Inclusive Excellence.   This digital product will tell the story of how the various strategies undertaken at UCLA (including past activities that were initiated with HHMI support) fit together to enhance Inclusive Excellence.