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Queer Lights: Combining Technology, LGBTQA, and Diversity Topics in an Accessible and Inclusive Learning Environment

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

LGBTQ+ Track - Technical Session IV

Tagged Topics

Diversity and LGBTQ+

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Paper Authors


David J. McLaughlin University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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I have serves as Associate Engineering Dean and Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst since 2005; Previously, I was Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMass Amherst and Northeastern University.

Prior to becoming Associate Dean, I served as director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) from 2003 to 2013. I also have served as part-time Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Company, Integrated Defense Systems Division, 2008 to 2015.

I've been the recipient of the Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity Award, Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Award, Distinguished Lecturer Award, Chancellor's Medal, and DIstinguished Teaching Awards at U.Mass Amherst between 2005 and 2016. I served as Ambassador for Teaching for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity at U.Mass Amherst 2016/17.

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Genny Beemyn University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Director, Stonewall Center.

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LGBTQA students have unequal access to opportunities to study STEM fields because of the heteronormative, male-dominated atmosphere in technology-focused classes and the lack of out LGBTQA students in STEM fields. Heterosexual, cisgender students are often unfamiliar with LBGTQA issues and topics such as power, privilege, and identity, that provide the basis for developing attitudes valuing diversity, difference and pluralistic perspectives. This abstract describes efforts over the past two years to create a new course at the University of Massachusetts called “Queer Lights” that combines elements of electrical engineering, LGBTQA topics, and the foundations of diversity. The intent is to offer students from all campus majors an interesting, accessible combination of topics and an inclusive learning environment. We offered the course as a 1-credit seminar during the past two years to 40 students from diverse academic disciplines, personal interests and backgrounds, including many with no prior background with computer programming or electronics. We used the Arduino computing platform combined with programmable LED lighting and encouraged students to design and build projects that expressed some aspect of identity. An example project is a wearable light-up pin that shows the colors of the pride flag (ROYGBV) or the pansexual flag (pink, yellow, blue); the process of creating this pin provided opportunities to focus discussion on identity and meaning issues behind the flag colors. We found this to be an effective way to introduce students to technology and LGBTQA content while promoting experiential learning, self-expression, and experimentation. Surveyed students expressed interest in devoting more time to LGBTQA topics, Arduino hardware and software, and hands-on experimenting. Since there is a limit to what can be included in a 1-credit course (~14 meeting hours over a semester), we are now expanding this into a 4-credit course and are aiming for Interdisciplinary Science & US Diversity (SIDU) designation. This would accomplish three objectives: (1) provide ~ 40 hours of in-class time to adequately address technology, LGBTQA, and diversity topics; (2) establish the course as one that “counts” toward graduation requirements for students from engineering and other majors who contend with busy, filled academic schedules; (3) satisfy a 4-credit diversity course requirement for students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

McLaughlin, D. J., & Beemyn, G. (2018, April), Queer Lights: Combining Technology, LGBTQA, and Diversity Topics in an Accessible and Inclusive Learning Environment Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia.

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