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“Leaning In” by Leaving the Lab: Building Graduate Community Through Facilitated Book Discussions

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Supporting Diversity through Co-curricular Programming

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1785.1 - 26.1785.20



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Paper Authors


Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Director for Graduate Initiatives at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she earned Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published more than two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. As a volunteer for Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, Luchini-Colbry facilitates interactive seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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Julie M.W. Rojewski Michigan State University

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Julie Rojewski is the Program Manager of the Michigan State University Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) grant (funded by NIH). Previously, she was the Director of the MSU ADVANCE grant (funded by NSF), and has worked in several dimensions of graduate student and faculty development around teaching, mentoring, leadership, communications, and teamwork. She has a particular professional expertise with program planning, management, and evaluation and an academic interest in leadership development in academic contexts. She holds a M.A. in Education from Michigan State University and an M.A. in English from The Ohio State University.

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“Leaning In” by Leaving the Lab: Building Graduate Community through Facilitated Book DiscussionsAbstractThis paper describes a project designed to build community among graduate students in STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) at a large, research-intensive MidwesternUniversity. Using a $10,000 grant from a program to foster inclusive excellence at theUniversity, the authors developed a facilitated discussion series for graduate students focusing onthemes and ideas from “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg. Six,two-hour discussion sessions were held in Spring, 2014, and in addition to the in-persondiscussions an online community was established.Sessions were widely publicized among STEM graduate programs at the University, as well asselect programs from the social and behavioral sciences. 60 individuals registered for theproject, either by completing a brief online registration form or by coming to one or more of thediscussion sessions. While the project was open to all STEM graduate students regardless ofgender, more than 80% of total participants (and 100% of students in the high engagementgroup) were female. Students completed pre- and post-experience surveys, as well as briefevaluations after each session.In the pre-experience survey, respondents were asked about their motivation for participating inthis program. The most common responses included interest in reading the book (83%) or to“think purposefully about goal setting.” Less common motivators were expanding one’snetwork (39%), free food (57%), or being invited or encouraged by a peer (43%). The mostcommon concern or question expressed on pre-experience survey was: how can successfulwomen achieve work/life balance and have success in both family and career? Other commonconcerns expressed by participants on the pre-program surveys included: overcoming feelings of“inadequacy” or the imposter syndrome [1]; how to speak up when silenced, interrupted, orignored; and how to negotiate for what participants need to be successful.The qualitative responses, both on the pre-program survey and from observations of discussionin the first session, suggest a deeper motivation for participating: many participants feel isolatedin their work. For the participants in this project, the presence of a structured and facilitatedprogram offered certain advantages over less formal activities that are primarily focused aroundsocial activities. Further, these kinds of activities can address social-support needs of graduatestudents in powerful ways that are designed to challenge and support [2] students as theyundergo different kinds of transformation in their academic careers. This paper will describe thedesign, implementation and results of this project, and offers important lessons and resources forthose interested in implementing similar activities to engage graduate students at their owninstitutions.References[1] P. R. Clance and S. A. Imes, “The impostor syndrome in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic interventions,” Psychother. Theory Res. Pract., vol. 14, pp. 241–247, 1978.[2] N. Sanford, The American College. New York: Wiley, 1962. 

Luchini-Colbry, K., & Rojewski, J. M. (2015, June), “Leaning In” by Leaving the Lab: Building Graduate Community Through Facilitated Book Discussions Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23349

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