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Creating Sanctuary in Academia: Tales from the Pandemic

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

WIED: Community

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Paper Authors


Callie Miller James Madison University

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Dr. Callie Miller is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering at James Madison University. A self-described mathematically inclined bioengineer, her expertise ranges from computational biology, image analysis, mechanics, mathematical modeling, to project based learning pedagogies.

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Daniel Castaneda James Madison University

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Daniel I. Castaneda is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering at James Madison University. Daniel earned his PhD in 2016 and his Master's in 2010, both in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He previously earned his Bachelor's in 2008 from the University of California, Berkeley. His course development includes civil engineering materials, dynamics, engineering design, engineering economics, first-year engineering experience, matrix analysis, mechanics, probability and risk in engineering, statics, and structural analysis. His research aims to better society by exploring how infrastructure materials can be made to be more environmentally sustainable and resilient; and by exploring how engineering can be structured to be more welcoming of diverse perspectives, which can fuel solutions in challenging societal inequities.

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Melissa Aleman James Madison University

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Dr. Melissa Aleman (Ph.D. University of Iowa) is Professor of Communication Studies at James Madison University and has published research using qualitative interviewing, ethnographic and rhetorical methods to examine communication in diverse cultural contexts ranging from multicultural families to engineering education and makerspaces. She has advised undergraduate and graduate students in autoethnographic, ethnographic, and qualitative interview projects on a wide-range of topics, has taught research methods at the introductory, advanced, and graduate levels, and has trained research assistants in diverse forms of data collection and analysis.

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The COVID-19 pandemic roared into our lives in Spring 2020 like a hurricane, unmooring the academic “ship.” Two junior (tenure-track) faculty members came together in Fall 2020 to plan and deliver in Spring 2021 a highly synchronized, remote introductory engineering mechanics course. At the forefront of their planning was that their instructional approaches would be resilient against any number of uncertainties and unknowns. What emerged from this collaborative teaching experience were practices that enhanced care for others (faculty and student) and challenged the masculine norms of academia. Their partnership grew to include others into a community of faculty that offered support, sanctuary, and balance – a trifecta that offered an “anchor” for the unmoored academic ship.

The narratives examined in this paper tell of faculty survival: rebalancing duties in the context of rapidly shifting expectations at work and home, making sense of demanding and impersonal university messaging, and grappling with a historical moment when families experienced unprecedented strains in caregiving, mostly felt by working women. This survival required transformative, relationship-centered practices and pedagogies grounded in care and collaboration. Using mediated collaborative autoethnography and interviewing methodologies, we recount the story of that faculty partnership, particularly noting gendered differences in their experiences. This paper offers an analysis of these faculty narratives through a gendered lens that demonstrate how a supportive partnership led to the creation of a new faculty culture that could potentially be realized more broadly within academia and engineering education. The themes we explore under the broader umbrella of collaboration are survival, creating sanctuary, setting boundaries, and faculty empowerment. We hope our stories tell of the reward in demonstrating care for others as it relates to fostering meaningful, inclusive working relationships that enhance student and faculty retention and persistence in engineering education.

Miller, C., & Castaneda, D., & Aleman, M. (2022, August), Creating Sanctuary in Academia: Tales from the Pandemic Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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