Lead Institution: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
Date Implemented: June 2006
Program Description: The initial goal of this project was to incorporate diversity education into the required undergraduate Chemical Engineering curriculum at UMass Amherst. Since the project’s inception, the curriculum has been modified to include undergraduate Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) students and two interdisciplinary graduate programs (Graduate Certificate in Cellular Engineering and NIH PREP). The objectives of the new curriculum were to (1) raise awareness about diversity in the engineering workplace among engineering students, including the current percentages of women and minorities at different professional levels and challenges faced by underrepresented individuals in these environments; and (2) educate students about the institutional policies and personal skills, including communication styles, negotiation styles, and management styles, that facilitate diversity in the engineering workplace. The activities included (i) developing lectures to formally discuss diversity issues such as the state of underrepresented groups in the engineering workforce, historical trends, and institutional policies that promote diversity; (ii) developing scenarios involving conflict resolution and diversity that students could role-play and discuss; and (iii) inviting female and minority guest speakers to discuss their personal career paths and experiences. Discussions included examining institutions listed as encouraging for women and minorities and their guidelines for promoting diversity, including strategies for recruiting and hiring, policies for family leave, on-site child care, spousal hiring, part-time work arrangements, and mentoring of women and minorities in the workplace. Guest speakers expose students to individuals who can serve as role models for underrepresented engineering students, raise awareness among the general student body about the challenges faced by women and minorities in engineering, and help to change misperceptions among the general student body regarding “who does engineering.” Other topics discussed include academic career paths, differences in communication and negotiation styles among women and men in the workplace, and strategies for managing and effectively communicating with individuals who have different communication styles.
Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: The anticipated outcomes were that students would have (1) a higher awareness about diversity in the engineering workplace among engineering students, including the current percentages of women and minorities at different professional levels and challenges faced by underrepresented individuals in these environments; and (2) a greater understanding of institutional policies and personal skills, including communication styles, negotiation styles, and management styles, that facilitate diversity in the engineering workplace. Post-graduation, an anticipated outcome was that students receiving this training would work more effectively in diverse teams. Among undergraduate chemical engineering students during 2007-2011, almost all agreed the activities were effective in achieving the stated outcomes. Several students expressed an interest in taking a full three-credit course on diversity and broader impacts in engineering, which was piloted in 2008. Among REU (2006-2011), Graduate Certificate students (2007-2011), and NIH PREP graduate interns (2009-2011), the average student response to course materials has been positive and is increasing over time. The less positive response from earlier years likely reflected the need to adapt certain course materials and case studies for graduate populations.
Assessment Information: The undergraduate chemical engineering component of the program is regularly assessed with student surveys, student interviews, faculty assessment, and alumni surveys as a part of our ongoing ABET assessment. The REU and graduate components of the program are assessed as a part of the external evaluations of these programs, which include student surveys and student focus groups. The initial course materials were developed for undergraduate chemical engineering students, students completed surveys to assess achievement of the program objectives, and the results were shared in an on-campus workshop on diversity education. With the initial positive results from that assessment, our department formally changed the course objectives for our Chemical Engineering Professional Development course.
Funding/Sustainability: Implementation funding was $6,000 from an internal competition for diversity education. These funds went towards purchasing relevant texts, faculty and staff time for assessment, and travel costs for invited guest lecturers. Expansion of the program to REU students and graduate students was supported by grants from the NSF and NIH. The undergraduate Chemical Engineering component materials have been institutionalized and formally integrated into our curriculum. For the components involving REU and graduate students, we continue to apply for federal training grants to offset the costs of assessment and guest speakers. The UMass Graduate School, UMass Provost’s Office, UMass Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, College of Engineering, and College of Natural Sciences have provided some matching funds. At the graduate level, the program has been semi-institutionalized, with some discussions of long-term support to develop a curriculum for all graduate students at UMass Amherst. Although the materials have already been developed for both undergraduate and graduate audiences, and the lecture and role-playing aspects of the curriculum can be continued even if no additional funding is obtained, ongoing funding is needed for program evaluation and guest speakers.