Why I Study Inclusion in Engineering Education

As the year closes, I am reflecting on my journey into being a graduate student and how I found a topic of research that I am passionate about. My name is Andrea Haverkamp, and I am currently a PhD candidate in environmental engineering at Oregon State University, and also minoring in Queer Studies. These academic fields have blended together in an exciting way as I now study inclusivity and equity in the engineering classroom. 

I have been in engineering for almost 12 years now, between two degrees and several jobs and internships in engineering. Before coming to college, I really wanted to be a high school science teacher. At the urging of my family and teachers I ended up majoring in chemical engineering. I discovered once starting my undergraduate degree that the culture of engineering towards women was often diminishing and the classrooms were not as diverse or welcoming as in other spaces. I am a gay woman as well, creating what some would consider a “multiply marginalized” identity. After hearing a number of gay jokes during class and already being shy, I began to not openly discuss my dating or outside life to my classmates. LGBTQ+ people and women face unconscious bias and stereotypes wherever we go and they can both blend together in uniquely uncomfortable ways for gay women. I also remained hidden during my environmental engineering internships out of fear and lack of diversity initiatives in engineering. When I graduated and started my first job as a process engineer I began to experience the common hurdles that women and LGBTQ+ people in the workplace overcome every day. I was talked over, had projects taken from me and given to men on our team when the projects proved promising or expanded, and had co-workers make comments about me and another woman’s appearances. The attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people were often unfriendly too – I heard coworkers during lunch make “gay jokes” and say discriminatory statements towards a machine operator who was transgender. I continued to not discuss my identity or social life at the workplace, as I feared these statements would make my life as a woman in engineering even more difficult. I once heard a senior engineering manager make highly discriminatory statements towards immigrants as well. The lack of inclusivity made me uncomfortable. I felt very alone in caring about these topics and became very detached from my work.

I had the opportunity through this employer to obtain a Master of Engineering degree as part of a employee development program. It was during this degree program that I took a life changing course – Engineering Education Research. This topic was completely new to me, as all of my courses revolved around mathematics, physics, fluids, and other typical chemical and environmental engineering topics. During this course I was first exposed to the rich research topics that engineering educators and sociologists are studying across the country. Topics range from conceptual learning (how to best learn engineering), engineering philosophy (what is engineering?), and engineering equity and inclusion (the professional climate for underrepresented groups). I had never known that engineers worked on this!

Taking this course, I learned that the negative workplace and classroom experiences of LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color were not something I was imagining. These were very real dynamics that other engineers were studying and researching. This research even has the support from large National Science Foundation initiatives to create a diverse engineering profession. I learned that this research community is growing, with degrees specifically in Engineering Education starting to appear at universities. The professor of this class saw my enthusiasm and we began to meet in office hours frequently. I became very passionate about this topic but sadly, once I graduated, I had to return to the job where these research topics of inclusion and equity felt very real. He told me that I should consider staying for a PhD to join this research field. It felt daunting as someone who had only studied chemical and environmental engineering. I was so fresh to the topic of education that I didn’t believe I could do it.

The turning point in my professional life came during a new position I had as a project engineer. When touring one of our workplaces I came across a cubicle which faced the hallway. On this cubicle wall (belonging to an engineer) were cartoons with highly negative, and what I saw as offensive, cartoons disparaging women, LGBTQ+ people, and the indigenous peoples of North America. I was furious! I made documentation, talked to management, contacted our equal opportunity office, and the cartoons were taken down. I realized that I felt a calling to make sure that this and the other things I had witnessed would never happen again.

Within the year I left that job and was accepted to a PhD program to work on a topic I was passionate about – diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering education. My experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ population informed my research proposal to highlight and document the experiences of undergraduate students and identify the strategies they use to succeed in the classroom. I am excited by the work I do every day. In addition to engineering, I am pursuing a PhD minor in Queer Studies which compliments my research. I finally feel like I found a place in engineering where my real-world experiences can merge with my research to make a better future in engineering. As a high schooler I wanted to teach science, and now I see my true life calling, which is to become an inclusive and welcoming educator in engineering.

Organizations such as SWE, and specifically GradSWE during graduate school, have been instrumental towards my own success and professional development. I cannot change what I saw and experienced the past decade, but I have found a place in my career where I can affect change on many levels through my work. Together we will create an engineering that uplifts all of us!

 

If you are interested in contributing in any way to GradSWE’s Diversity & Inclusion team (such as assisting in blog posts, brainstorming ideas, sharing ways we can become more inclusive, or developing outreach initiatives) please contact Diversity & Inclusion Liason Andrea Haverkamp at gradswe.dil@gmail.com We look forward to working with you!

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Tips for Ensuring a Positive Experience in your Research Lab

Working in a research lab with a diverse group of people and under the guidance/management of a professor can be a foreign experience. How can you make the most of your local research community and set yourself up for success with your research advisor? These are a few tips I’ve learned along the way, having exposure to multiple labs and management styles.

  1. Your research advisor serves multiple roles. Not only does this person commonly provide funding for your research and tuition, and serve as your employer/supervisor, but they also serve in the role as your research advisor (sometimes called “mentor”).  Their key function is to provide you, the student, guidance along the path of research activities and to prepare you for a future as a researcher. Some research advisors may not fit the role of what we think of as a traditional “mentor”. In those cases, seek other faculty members as mentors while working with your research advisor.  It is encouraged to have multiple mentors and sources of feedback as you develop as a researcher and prepare for your future career.
  2. Lab management is approached very differently by professors. Some prefer to have low numbers of students while others have large labs with a hierarchical system in place to manage the different levels of students (undergrads, masters, doctorals). Some professors have weekly individual meetings in addition to weekly group lab meetings, while others may only have monthly individual meetings.  This is an important consideration when selecting a lab to join. You must consider your level of interaction needed with your advisor. If s/he is not giving you as much time as you need, be sure to communicate this to them and request a meeting.
  3. Make the most of your lab community. Research labs are often comprised of a variety of students from different countries, backgrounds, undergraduate degrees and Alma Maters. Labs will have a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. For doctoral students, this often becomes your new home away from home for the next 4-6 years. Countless hours will be spent in this environment. Be sure to reach out to your lab mates and spend some “team building” / “get-to-know-you” time with them. Sometimes this happens naturally, other times it takes effort, but it’s worth it. It will make for a much more collegial and supportive environment. Also, be open to helping each other. Often research is an individual effort and can become competitive. This is your time to learn, from others as well as your advisor, and to share and teach others as well so they can learn from you.
  4. Advisor/Student Expectations.  It is vital to have a clear understanding of your advisor’s role, their responsibilities and what you can expect from them. In the same way, you must know your responsibilities and what your advisor expects from you. Some professors and/or departments have implemented a student/advisor contract that each person signs. This is the surest way to prevent misunderstandings and even abuse of the student through inappropriate tasks assigned or causing a delay in graduation. If your school doesn’t use one, feel free to ask your advisor to sign one with you.

  Examples of advisor/student contracts:

Upstate Agreement

University of British Columbia Agreement

Other resources on establishing a successful relationship with your advisor:

Blog on relating with your advisor

U. Michigan Student/Advisor Guides to Mentoring

 

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY -GAANN PhD Program

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CU-Denver has received funding to support several PhD students for the upcoming fall semester.

The SHRC Program is a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) PhD fellowship program, focusing on interdisciplinary training of fellows in the area of Transportation Engineering for Safe, Healthy and Resilient Communities.

The three-year fellowship will cover:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Conference Travel
  • Annual Stipend

Find out more at http://www.gaann.org/

Grad Member Spotlight: Celine Liong

19 September 2016

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Celine Liong

PhD student, Bioengineering, expected graduation June 2019

Stanford University

 

Celine helped to start her undergrad (University of California San Diego) SWE chapter’s first Team Tech team. She also helped in piloting the engineering school’s first overnight stay program where UCSD SWE members hosted newly admitted high school students so that they could learn more about the opportunities at UCSD’s engineering and how SWE can serve as a resource.

Celine has been awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG), the Stanford Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE)-STEM Fellowship, the UCSD Boeing-IDEA center scholarship, the San Diego SWE continuing student scholarship, and the UCSD SWE-California Space Grant Consortium Research Scholarship. Congratulations, Celine, on all you’ve accomplished! Keep up the great work!

 

What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

Bioengineering PhD at Stanford. I expect to graduate June 2019.

Give a brief explanation of your research.
I work on electronic skin, a flexible and stretchable electronic device designed to mimic the tactile sensing of real human skin. I hope to apply e-skin to treat phantom limb pain. E-skin can be used to create active neural prostheses so amputees have a sense of touch and a way to treat nerves that are randomly firing. 

What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?
I hope to work in industry R&D in the future, focusing on wearable electronics that have therapeutics or diagnostic applications. 

What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I like to run, rock climb, and cycle. I also like to bake and take advantage of sunny California weather either by going to the beach or reading outside.
What’s a fun fact about you?
I’ve never watched Lord of the Rings.

WE16: Opportunities for Involvement!

We are only TWO months (plus a few days) away from the WE16 national conference in Philadelphia, PA! Participating in a conference session is a great way to justify attending the conference and network with fellow SWE grads. Here are TWO ways to become involved in WE16 as a grad student! These opportunities include:

  1. Rapid Fire sessions – call for applications
  2. GradSWE member survey/option to participate in a panel at the GradSWE Meet & Greet

Rapid Fire Sessions: Year after year, Rapid Fire presentation prove to be a very beneficial way for SWE grads to practice presenting their research in front of their peers and a panel of judges. The call for applications is officially open and due on Monday, September 26th at 11:59 pm EST. Please fill out the application here. Master’s and PhD students are highly encouraged to apply.

GradSWE Member Survey: Does your university have a GradSWE committee? If so, we would love to have your input! Each GradSWE committee arranges their funding and committee structures in a slightly different way. We are planning to devote time to discussing this at WE16. Ultimately, these efforts will create a reference of “best practices” as GradSWE committees become more prevalent across the country. We greatly appreciate your input! Please fill our the survey here.

For questions about either of these opportunities, Please email Rachel at grad-programs-coordinator@swe.org with any questions.