In a sweeping step forward for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in engineering, Michigan Engineering leaders have approved plans for how to educate all members of the College community on DEI starting with a focus on race, ethnicity and bias.
The plans include changes to the undergraduate curriculum that will be developed and piloted over the coming academic year. And all graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty and staff members will be strongly encouraged to participate in programs designed specifically for them.
“I believe we are the first engineering school in the nation—perhaps even the world—to embark on a diversity, equity and inclusion education effort that is this broad. And this type of education is the foundation on which we can build a more equitable future,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor of aerospace engineering.
The plans are part of a culture shift initiative Gallimore launched during the racial reckoning of 2020, and as a culmination of the college’s five-year DEI strategic plan. This education is also a key pillar of equity-centered engineering, a guiding philosophy at the College that seeks to approach engineering with an intent to close—rather than unintentionally expand—societal gaps.
“We are taking these steps because, frankly, we need to require more of our engineers,” Gallimore said. “Engineering is a people-oriented field. We do not make or use technology in a way that is separate from the culture and society we are part of. We need to teach that in required engineering coursework, threaded throughout the academic experience, as a practical means of addressing or preventing social problems that materially affect the field and society at large.”
Five teams representing various College constituencies worked over the past year to develop proposals, gather and incorporate feedback and chart a path forward. The process was led by Sara Pozzi, College director of diversity, equity and inclusion and a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences. The College is hiring an executive director for culture, community and equity who will guide the implementation.
“The events of last summer made it abundantly clear that despite years of effort, we still have a tremendous amount of work to do to achieve a more just society,” Pozzi said. “To everyone who has been a part of this critical work to this point, thank you for moving us a step forward on this journey.”
Undergrad plan reflects awareness that ‘DEI is central to engineering practice’
For undergraduates, the College will work with DEI scholars to develop new curriculum requirements. This will include a new course for all undergraduates that examines DEI in science, technology, engineering and math, its historical context and societal impact. The plan also calls for first-year introductory modules that integrate content on identity, systemic anti-Black racism and other forms of exclusion in the context of STEM, where appropriate, as well as a synthesizing module in a capstone design course.
These adjustments would not add credits to degree requirements.
The new content will be developed and piloted in the upcoming academic year. The College curriculum committee will need to approve courses and degree requirements before they are adopted.
While DEI undergraduate education efforts are underway at other engineering institutions, U-M’s approach is believed to be unique in how deeply it’s synthesized with technical coursework. This includes developing resources for faculty members to integrate content into their courses.
“We’re not aware of any other institution working to integrate content across the existing curriculum—where it’s appropriate—and to develop new content based on the understanding that diversity, equity and inclusion is central to engineering practice,” said Joanna Millunchick, associate dean for undergraduate education and a professor of materials science and engineering.
Faculty to undertake one DEI professional development activity per year
A continuing education program on racial equity, inclusive teaching, and broader DEI issues will be established for faculty members. All faculty will be expected to engage in at least one substantive anti-racism or broader DEI educational professional development activity every year. In an expanded DEI section of faculty annual reports, they’ll describe their activities, reflect on how they improved teaching, research and service and set the following year’s DEI goals.
“The program for faculty emphasizes flexibility and translation to practice. Our goal is to allow faculty with different bases of knowledge and experience to benefit and grow along their DEI journey,” said Michael Wellman, the Richard H. Orenstein Division Chair of Computer Science and Engineering and the Lynn A. Conway Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering. Wellman co-led the faculty plan team with Tershia Pinder-Grover, director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering.
Faculty members can undertake introductory experiences to promote their own personal development, intermediate experiences that promote broader community development and advocacy, or advanced experiences focusing on leadership development and advocacy.
Grad student, postdoc plans focus on professional development
For master’s and doctoral students as well as postdoctoral researchers, the College will partner with the Rackham Graduate School to provide ongoing professional development opportunities that develop skills and educate on race, ethnicity and other DEI topics throughout their time on campus. To accomplish this, they will leverage existing DEI educational programming and evaluate students’ and researchers’ needs to identify gaps where new, custom modules are desired.
To arrive at that plan, the team conducted a Winter ’21 pilot in which participants attended workshops and provided feedback. Based on the pilot, the team elected to build on the more than 20 existing DEI education workshops that complement the bystander intervention training graduate students and postdoctoral researchers already receive at U-M orientation.
“Ongoing DEI education is essential to the professional development of our graduate students and postdoctoral researchers,” said Mary-Ann Mycek, chair and professor of biomedical engineering who co-led the team. “Our graduates will be able to apply skills and knowledge gained from DEI education immediately upon their entry into the workforce. These opportunities set them up for success beyond their time at Michigan Engineering.”
For staff, threading DEI through the employee life cycle
For staff members, the College is developing a professional development system that will focus first on anti-racism and ethnicity education and then on broader DEI issues. It will offer different ways for staff to learn and engage at their own pace, and a digital resource library that includes interactive modules. Small group discussions through DEI-focused “creative conversations” will continue. “Culture catalysts” within units will serve as a network of ambassadors. Periodic climate surveys, focus groups and other formal and informal feedback channels will be used to measure effectiveness. While some parts will roll out this summer, most will begin during the upcoming academic year.
“This plan won’t be in a binder on a shelf,” said Heidi Sherick, director of leadership development who co-led the staff team with Debbie Mero, senior executive director of resource planning and management. “We’re going to be threading DEI through the entire employee life cycle, from our offer letters, to this education program and in reflections during annual performance reviews. We are being intentional about building our culture and helping our staff grow together and bring their best selves to the workplace.”
Community at large
The Change it Up! To Stop Anti-Black Racism bystander intervention workshop will continue being offered to help students, staff and faculty members develop skills to interrupt harmful behaviors and create an environment that rejects harassment, bias and anti-Black racism. The workshop presents a brief history of anti-Blackness in the United States and increases racial literacy by defining terms that are essential for understanding bystander intervention and anti-racism and engaging in productive dialogue.
Since it launched in fall 2020, more than 900 members of the engineering community have taken part.
“The College’s commitment to interrupting harm in our community is demonstrated by the fact that our leaders were among the first to participate. This included our dean, all associate deans, members of the dean’s cabinet, department chairs, directors and unit administrators,” said Debby Covington, director of partnerships, outreach and retention in the Office of Student Affairs. “And 25 faculty, staff and students have become certified facilitators, building anti-racist allies in both academic and social settings throughout the College and beyond.”