Reflections from KEEN’s Enhancing Inclusive Teaching (EIT) Workshop

In early June, I had the pleasure of attending the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network’s (KEEN) Enhancing Inclusive Teaching workshop, a 3-day workshop held in the heart of Philadelphia, PA. True to its name, this workshop series focused on enhancing inclusive teaching practices and designing classroom activities that foster inclusive learning environments and experiences for students. Specifically, the facilitators framed the workshop around four factors necessary for building inclusive classroom experiences in engineering: (1) highlighting diverse figures, (2) providing safe spaces for failure, (3) encouraging collaboration over competition, and (4) promoting student autonomy. As an educator, my primary goal has always been to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for my students. However, engaging in this workshop has opened my eyes to new perspectives and approaches for achieving this goal. The remainder of this blog post highlights some of my reflections and takeaways from engaging in this workshop experience.

My primary takeaway from the workshop was the realization that fostering inclusivity and designing inclusive learning spaces does not necessitate a complete overhaul or re-design of course content. This insight was particularly meaningful to me as a graduate student, as I often have limited control over the curriculum I teach. Going into the workshop, I was unsure how applicable the content would be to a graduate teaching assistant who has little control over the activities and content I am asked to cover during class. The facilitators of the workshop skillfully emphasized that promoting inclusivity can be achieved at various scales and across different levels of teaching autonomy. For example, in our discussion regarding promoting student autonomy, we discussed how I could give my students agency through having them help develop classroom expectations/policies and embedding choice across course activities and tasks to help promote student autonomy.

In addition to framing the content to be applicable to a variety of educators and settings, I also appreciated how the facilitators modeled inclusive practices while running the workshop. One especially powerful demonstration of this was in our ice breaker activity that we completed during the first day, which highlighted an example of diverse figures in engineering. In this activity, we learned about the women who were responsible for weaving the core memory rope (i.e., the “software”) for the Apollo mission. The ice breaker activity required us to “code” our names using the same techniques implemented by the weavers, switch our “memory rope” with another participant and decode it to learn their name. In addition to highlighting diverse figures in engineering, the facilitators also took steps to promote collaboration and create a safe space for failure during this activity, prompting us participants to work together to help each other with coding and decoding. In modeling inclusive teaching practices and providing examples of what this might look like in the classroom, the facilitators helped me feel empowered and confident that I too could do this in my own classroom. Their modeling also prompted my curiosity as to how I could slightly adapt or add on to the existing activities in the first-year engineering course I will be teaching to connect to or recognize diverse figures in engineering.

Finally, the workshop emphasized that inclusive teaching is an ongoing process of growth and reflection. It requires constant self-assessment, seeking feedback from students, and adapting teaching strategies to better meet their needs. In attending this workshop, I have learned the significance of continuously educating myself about the latest research, best practices, and resources related to inclusive teaching. By doing so, I can ensure that my teaching remains responsive, dynamic, and inclusive.

Attending the Enhancing Inclusive Teaching workshop was a transformative experience that has reshaped my approach to education. Through a deeper understanding of how I can highlight diverse figures in engineering, make my classroom into a safe space for students, encourage collaboration, and promote student autonomy, I am better equipped to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students. I am excited to implement these newfound insights as a graduate teaching assistant this coming school year!

Reflections on the Qualifying Exam Experience: Advice for Future EED Students

Qualifying exams, sometimes referred to as preliminary exams, are a common milestone in most Ph.D. programs. Although varied in structure and design, these exams seek to measure a student’s ability to apply the skills and knowledge acquired during their graduate courses. In the EED, qualifiers are comprised of two components: (1) an oral portion modeled after an NSF review panel and (2) a written portion that requires students to craft essay-style responses to three-question prompts. The written portion of the exam is designed so that each of the three prompts pertains to the content covered in one of the core EED courses. The exam is regarded as the first major milestone in the Ph.D. process and is typically taken after the first year of study when students have completed the required courses (I.e., Foundations of Engineering Education, Learning Theory, Pedagogy, and Assessment, and Research Design.)

As someone who took the EED qualifier this past July, I have spent much of the last few weeks reflecting on my exam experience and thinking about what I could have done to be better prepared. In reflecting on this experience, I have identified 3 key pieces of advice for future EED graduate students to consider as they begin preparations to take their own qualifying exams.

  • Start preparing for your qualifier on the first day of classes.
    While the qualifying exam is probably the last thing on your mind during your first few weeks as a Ph.D. student, developing a long-term study plan and getting organized early in your Ph.D. experience can help set you up for success. This does not mean that you need to be drafting practice responses during your first week. In fact, you will likely be somewhat limited in how much “studying” and practice you can do until after you complete at least one of the required EED courses for the exam. Rather, I encourage you to begin by coming up with a broad plan for how you will organize your knowledge and course resources (I.e., course readings & notes). The written portion of the exam requires you to support your assertions with appropriate evidence. Organizing the readings/notes in a way that is meaningful to you and is easy to navigate can save you time during the written portion of the exam. In addition to setting up your organization system, you can begin to develop a plan or schedule for studying during the latter parts of the first semester and the entirety of the second (spring) semester. How long will it take you to review the course readings and your notes? Do you plan to practice writing a response for the exam? How do you plan to prepare for the oral panel? If you are struggling with where to start with regard to developing a study plan and getting organized, I encourage you to chat with your advisor(s) as they can serve as an important resource and guide.
  • Utilize the resources available to you.
    In addition to beginning preparations early, I also encourage you to take advantage of the resources that are available to help you prepare for the exam. For me, one of the most useful resources for preparing for the exam was reviewing examples of previous qualifier questions and their associated rubrics. Accessing and reviewing these materials provided insight into the types of questions that could potentially be asked during the exam and provided guidance with regard to the different components that were expected to be present to receive a “passing” score. In addition to reviewing the previous exams and rubrics provided by the department, I also advise future EED students to engage with other grad students in the department who have already gone through the exam process. Students who have taken the qualifiers can provide important insights into the exam process and share advice on how to be successful. I encourage you to ask these students about their experiences with the exam, what helped them be successful, and what they wish they would have done differently. While they are not obligated to share them with you, you can also ask these students to see their written responses, which may give you further insight into what a “passing” response or “failing” response looks like.
  • Practice, practice again, and then practice some more.
    The last piece of advice I have for future students is to practice drafting responses for the written portion of the exam. Although the questions vary each year, you can use questions from previous qualifiers and the associated rubrics as a guide for crafting practice responses. I highly recommend drafting at least one response to each of the questions to get a feel for the amount of work and time each prompts requires. This practice can help you plan and develop a realistic schedule to follow during the exam itself. Additionally, engaging in a practice round of writing can also illuminate areas of improvement with regard to how you have organized your course readings/notes, providing you with an opportunity to correct or reorganize these resources before the exam. In addition to drafting a practice response for each of the questions, I also encourage students to seek feedback on their work. Your advisor(s) and fellow Ph.D. students in the department can serve as great reviewers and provide you with suggestions on how to improve your writing for the actual exam.

I am hopeful that these 3 pieces of advice will help future EED students in preparing for the qualifier exam!

Advice for the First-Semester Ph.D. Student

If you are like me, the excitement of new opportunities is often accompanied by uncertainty or even fear toward the ambiguity that change brings. Moving to Columbus and transitioning to graduate studies at Ohio State has been no exception to these sentiments. For the past six years, I have lived in the upper peninsula of Michigan in a “city” known for its record snowfalls, rich mining history, and proximity to hiking trails, waterfalls, and the beautiful Lake Superior shoreline. I attended a small technical university, where I built a strong network of friends and mentors whose endless support fostered my doctoral aspirations. When I received my acceptance into the engineering education program, I was ecstatic. However, these feelings of excitement soon turned into nervous thoughts toward the transition ahead.

As a new student, I have spent my first few months at Ohio State learning to navigate the campus, meeting new people, and trying to balance the responsibilities associated with being a Ph.D. student. Although the university and the city of Columbus are beginning to feel more like home, the transition has not been without its challenges. In reflection of my experiences and the lessons I have learned so far, I present four pieces of advice for future graduate students as they transition into their new program and university.

Begin building relationships and your support network as early as you can. As you navigate your first semester, it is important to have a support system that you can turn to for advice, to ask for help, or even just to vent. Fostering relationships with your fellow graduate students, advisors, or faculty members can help build a sense of connection with your new community. They can also be a great resource for advice and insight into navigating the graduate school landscape.

Establish a routine. Adjusting to the coursework and other responsibilities that come with pursuing a Ph.D. can be overwhelming. Developing and following an effective routine can help to ensure you stay on track and maintain a work-life balance within your first semester. You have probably heard the advice “treat your Ph.D. like a job.” In reflection of this, consider how you will structure your day. How will you incorporate breaks? Self-care? Hobbies? What will be your “working” hours? Will you work weekends?

Explore and get involved. Exploring what campus or your neighborhood has to offer and getting involved within these spaces can help you build a connection with your new community. Joining a club, attending an event, or participating in a campus activity is a great way to meet fellow graduate students from different departments and learn about diverse opportunities available to you as a student.

Give yourself grace. Starting a Ph.D., attending a new university, and moving to a new city are big changes that can be difficult to navigate. During this transitional time, you will make mistakes. Be sure to give yourself grace as you navigate the beginning of your graduate experience.