With an NSF Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments (RED) grant, the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering seeks to create (1) a culture where everyone in the CBEE community feels a sense of value and belonging, and (2) to create a learning environment that prompts students and faculty to meaningfully relate curricular and co-curricular activities and experiences to each other and to connect both with professional practice. In this fourth year of the grant we are emphasizing embedding our reforms into the processes and routine practices of the School. This paper discusses these efforts in the context of the School community and the curricula and teaching practices.
We have developed a survey instrument to assess student perceptions of climate, and delivered the survey for the second year. We have taken the feedback and integrated the perspectives with the annual assessments we use for continuous improvement and accreditation. We discussed this integrated feedback with the faculty. We will continue to embed the climate survey into the standard operations of the assessment committee. The climate survey revealed that while students perceived the School climate as generally welcoming, students from all social identity groups rated the climate as significantly more welcoming for students from dominant (white, male, US-born) than nondominant (all other social identities) groups. Both quantitative survey analysis and qualitative analysis of open-ended responses on the survey highlighted the importance of peer relations in students’ perceptions of climate and engineering identity.
We are soliciting ideas and concepts from faculty and staff to improve School and College policies, norms and practices toward a more just workplace. Faculty and staff will opt in to participate on projects they are interested in, led by faculty who have participated in the ADVANCE training (funded by this project) on difference, power and discrimination.
Our assessments have identified that international students experience the culture of CBEE less positively than domestic students. To address this challenge, in the final two years of the project we will be working with key students and staff to identify interventions and support mechanisms to benefit international students.
Curricula and Teaching Practices
In the past year of the grant, considerable effort was invested in analyzing students working in teams on re-situated activities in 11 studio course courses, testing a variety of teaming activities with senior students and soliciting their feedback, and creating a Teaching Innovation Fellows program for School faculty to work on common issues by participating in one or more of several new professional learning communities or by engaging in action research. We have expanded the use and professional development of near-peer Learning Assistants to facilitate course continuous improvement. We are video recording students as they engage in re-situated Studio 2.0 activities and comparing groups to one another and to how they engage in the previous Studio 1.0 activities to inform both activity development and instructional practice. We are piloting an alternative leads model in select studio courses where two faculty share a course assignment with one orienting towards that year’s delivery and the other taking responsibility for curricular innovation and instructional practice. The alternate leads presents a strategy to institute innovation and issues of practice as a core instructional activity rather than work supported by external funds.
The third and fourth year of the grant is characterized by a focus on institutional transformation – embedding practices, processes, course structures, and policies that will continue beyond the duration of the grant with the goals of building an inclusive culture for students, faculty and staff, and creating a professionally-based learning environment that promotes development of student’s skills to navigate the world of engineering.
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