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Creating an Inclusive, Vibrant Learning Environment within a Large Software Engineering Program – Experiential Learning Experiences Created for Students, Faculty, and Senior Design Coaches & Sponsors

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 3 Slot 8 Technical Session 3

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Margaret B. Bailey P.E. Rochester Institute of Technology

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Professor Margaret Bailey, Ph.D., P.E. is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering within the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology. Dr. Bailey teaches courses and conducts research related to Thermodynamics, engineering and public policy, engineering education, and gender in engineering and science. She is the co-author on an engineering textbook, Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, which is used worldwide in over 250 institutions. Dr. Bailey has served as the Principal Investigator (PI) on several externally funded efforts, most recently for the RIT NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant (2012-2019). The goal of this large-scale ($3.4M), multi-year university-level organizational transformation effort is to increase the representation and advancement of women STEM faculty. The project has resulted in impactful new programs, practices, and policies as well as a new dedicated unit within the Office of the Provost.

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Naveen Sharma Rochester Institute of Technology


Lana Verschage Rochester Institute of Technology

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Lana Verschage is the Director of the Women in Computing program at the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences at RIT. Women in Computing at RIT (WiC at RIT) provides an interdisciplinary networking forum for students, faculty, staff and alumni involved in the field of computing at Rochester Institute of Technology through professional, leadership, mentorship, and technical development opportunities. WiC at RIT will also encourage the advancement of women in computing through community outreach. Through her efforts Verschage has engaged more local women and girls in computing through outreach efforts, conferences, guidance, courses, and hackathons. Verschage helped create the all-women hackathon WicHacks which has grown from 60 to more than 200 attendees over the past three years, while attracting major corporate sponsorship from companies like Google and Spotify. In addition, she has led female computing groups to major events like the annual Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing. Verschage regularly brings members of the Women in Computing program into Rochester schools and libraries to help educate girls in grade 5-9 about the opportunities available to them in technology and continues to find new ways to help reach this underrepresented field. Additional goals that make up WiC at RIT's mission include: To make the field of computing seem less intimidating to women and allow them to become better integrated within it; To break down gender barriers in the field and promote a truly equal and inclusive environment; To organize social events to strengthen relationships to encourage those who may feel ostracized.; To encourage young women ages K-12 to explore computing through outreach programs, camps, and mentorship. Lana's efforts are helping create a new generation of female tech leaders in the Rochester area and beyond.

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Timothy T. Conlon

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This presentation describes several initiatives currently underway within a large software engineering (SE) department at a private university within the northeast US to positively affect levels of inclusiveness within the department’s learning environment. Information gathered from faculty, staff, student interviews and focus group discussions, as well as a department goal to improve female freshmen retention in the SE major motivated the SE department chair, departmental academic advisors and faculty, and the college’s women in computing director to launch this set of aligned activities in collaboration with the NSF ADVANCE funded program (NSF #1209115) at the university level. The resulting activities ideally enhance diversity and inclusion for students from all underrepresented groups in the program with a focus on groups based on gender.

Four experiential learning experiences have been created and concurrently implemented within the SE department to promote an inclusive academic environment. These include: (1) faculty targeted discussions and summer readings, (2) an interactive workshop designed for all first year SE students, (3) a workshop created for the coaches and sponsors, most of who are not regular RIT employees, who directly mentor student teams for the two-semester senior project course, and (4) the development of a resource flowchart which supports students, faculty, and staff in maintaining an inclusive learning environment within the department. The approach used in creating each is adaptive and the four resulting products are multi-faceted in regards to target audience, modality of learning experience, and composition of creation team. Furthermore, we will discuss key metrics aligned with the department’s goal to measure impacts resulting from these experiential learning experiences.

The SE department is within a large, private university which is committed to experiential learning within its undergraduate engineering curriculum. The university has one of the oldest cooperative education programs in the country and firmly believes in learning through doing.

This presentation describes how an experiential learning model is used to improve learning and accelerate needed academic cultural changes within the department. The experiential learning methodology is based on an existing educational model which includes four basic stages; active experiences, reflective observations, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. This experiential learning model is used throughout the development of each intervention and while creating the overall strategy. Within the faculty targeted discussions and the workshops for first year students and for coaches/sponsors, experiential learning approaches provide opportunities for participants to experience nuanced concepts first-hand while developing meaningful understanding of these concepts and how they operate in the academic environment. In addition, the development of the flowchart is an experiential learning experience for the development team which consists of faculty, staff, and students.

A flowchart serves as an additional layer to motivate, reinforce and strengthen knowledge and skills developed through the faculty discussions and workshops and to promote organizational transformation towards a more inclusive academic environment. The flowchart clearly articulates the desired state within the SE program – a place which represents a vibrant learning environment that respects and values all individuals. Framing for the flowchart answers the question, “What is required to make intentional change/transformation of culture happen?” This is addressed through four approaches: (1) Share a clear vision/articulation of the desired state and key metrics to measure progress towards the vision. (2) Begin the process of translating the vision at the group, team, and individual levels to determine implications on the work. (3) Develop understandable expectations for people so they can achieve the desired state. What do people need to do/do differently today to make tomorrow different from yesterday? (4) Describe how we/we will hold ourselves and others in our environment accountable?

This presentation describes how experiential learning has been incorporated within each of the four interventions in order to improve learning and promote an inclusive, vibrant academic environment as well as detailed descriptions of each activity, workshop evaluation results, and future plans.

Bailey, M. B., & Sharma, N., & Verschage, L., & Conlon, T. T. (2021, January), Creating an Inclusive, Vibrant Learning Environment within a Large Software Engineering Program – Experiential Learning Experiences Created for Students, Faculty, and Senior Design Coaches & Sponsors Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day .

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