Asee peer logo

Lessons Learned about Fostering Curricular Change

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Learnin' Lessons about Faculty Development

Tagged Division

Faculty Development Division

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Laura Ann Gelles University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Laura Gelles is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of San Diego's Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering where she is researching strategies and implementation of institutional change and integrates environmental and sustainability content into the engineering curriculum. Before joining USD in September 2019, Laura received her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Nevada Reno and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of North Dakota. She received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Utah State University with a research focus on the ethical and career aspects of mentoring of science and engineering graduate students and hidden curriculum in engineering.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This lessons learned paper will describe how faculty successfully mobilized curricular change and the barriers to that at a private university in the western United States. Institutional change is produced through concentrated shared efforts with support from leadership, allies, and invested change-agents. While past efforts have focused on incremental changes to curriculum, such efforts are often insufficient to overcome a rigid status quo. In response, a leadership team, which included the dean and department heads, proposed a vision through a strategic alignment of the university’s mission, external and internal collaborations, and industry partnerships. This proposal was funded by the National Science Foundation. The leadership team’s goal was radical innovation to the structure, policies, and curriculum of the school. Specific aims included attempts to integrate social and humanitarian content into engineering courses, connect professional values and skills to technical content, and empower faculty to use innovative pedagogical practices. Several challenges arose, however, as a result of this top-down leadership approach.

A shared vision is important to the process of implementing change; yet, the first lesson learned was that not all faculty members consistently felt included, nor invited to the table. In aiming to empower faculty to incorporate new elements to the curriculum, the second lesson learned was that simply hosting workshops was insufficient. Likewise, having authority figures, such as NSF officer, come to speak to faculty was also an ineffective approach. One provisional success included hiring a cluster of new faculty with invested interests in integrating sociotechnical content into engineering curriculum. While these new faculty successfully produced innovative curricular content, it is important that they are protected by department chairs and the dean. Without these protections, new faculty can feel at risk for not conforming to standard departmental practices of teaching, or may encounter critiques from tenured faculty who perceive additions to, or deviations from, the regular curriculum as “fluff” or irrelevant. Lastly, one innovative method for producing changes involved the role of “educational broker”. These educational brokers bring new ideas and communicate these in one on one meetings at the individual faculty level. Brokers are non-threatening; they are not in academic leadership roles nor on the tenure track. Some examples of brokers include visiting professors, industry partners, and postdoctoral fellows who actively listen to and help facilitate faculty members’ “wish list” of potential new curricular changes.

Change is an evolving process where established definitions, boundaries, practices, and even identities must be renegotiated over time and communicated through relationships maintained through trust and authenticity. This paper will cover the processes of engineering leadership, the politics that hindered change, and the potential for empowering faculty to be active agents toward a culture of change. These five lessons learned will be presented as a Lightning Talk to provide succinct guidance to faculty developers interested in empowering faculty to become changemakers.

Gelles, L. A. (2020, June), Lessons Learned about Fostering Curricular Change Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34908

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015