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Continuous Improvement for Equity in Engineering- Addressing Departmental Change with Theory-Informed Case Study Research (EBR)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 2

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Minorities in Engineering

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Sarah Hug Colorado Evaluation & Research Consulting

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Dr. Sarah Hug is director of the Colorado Evaluation & Research Consulting. Dr. Hug earned her PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research and evaluation efforts focus on learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with a special interest in communities of practice, creativity, and experiences of underrepresented groups in these fields across multiple contexts.

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Christina Convertino

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Heather Thiry

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Institutional change in higher education is known to be a slow process. Like most systems, higher education was designed by and for the elite, and built to maintain the status quo. As issues of equity in the United States become more and more salient, it is vital to understand change agency at multiple levels within organizations. The IUSE Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) grant was designed to ignite and measure change in an engineering department to support inclusivity, diversity, and excellence. Literature indicates that organizational change hinges upon multiple factors. In particular, the ways in which incentives and reward structures are used to support the change sought, the ways in which financial priorities shape practices in an organization, human resource allocation and training, and policies that shape practice are critical components in change. The first author takes an “insider/outsider” perspective to this work (Dwyer & Buckle, 2008; Gioia et al 2010). As a social scientist with no affiliation to the University, the perspective can be described as “outsider” because she does not belong to the department in any way. However, the social scientist has been studying elements of departmental change in the department since 2007, using participant observation in faculty meetings, course observations, participation in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and interviews with faculty and staff for the past 13 years, giving the author a great deal of contextual knowledge of the department. Using a continuous improvement mindset to consider change, which assumes integral change rather than drastic shifts to practice, we frame a mixed methods case study of the University of Texas at El Paso computer science department, a recipient of a 2016 RED grant, among four main themes. We contend that a department’s financial priorities, departmental policies, human resource allocation and training, and incentive and rewards structures are vital to achieving equity, particularly when these elements align with departmental values. We posit that the department can create a student support structure (Kezar, 2016) for equitable student outcomes, and theorize that this student support structure can be enhanced when the practices match the departmental values, and when the institutional and departmental values align. We provide recommendations regarding social science research in department level change and recommendations for departmental practices that promote equity.

Hug, S., & Convertino, C., & Thiry, H. (2021, July), Continuous Improvement for Equity in Engineering- Addressing Departmental Change with Theory-Informed Case Study Research (EBR) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36847

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