Laying the Foundation for Change

By Julia Williams

For many of us, the term “graduate school” provokes specific, vivid associations.  Quoting the English novelist Charles Dickens—“ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—graduate school can seem like wish fulfillment (“I finally get to work on the stuff that really interests me!”) and death wish (“When will I finally be done working on the stuff that used to interest me!”) rolled into one.  What graduate school may not seem like is the perfect place to begin your development as a change agent.  In fact, I would argue graduate school is the right place to begin readying yourself for your eventual role as a change agent in whatever academic or professional context you find yourself in after your pick up your sheepskin and hood.[1]

On March 21, I joined three other Rose-Hulman colleagues for the Making Academic Change Happen (MACH) Professional Development Workshop at Purdue University.  Sponsored by the Purdue Graduate Student Government, the graduate student chapter of the American Society of Engineering Education, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Student Association, and the Material Science Engineering Graduate Student Association, the one day workshop was designed to introduce emerging STEM educators to the principles of change agency and to help them lay the foundation for their eventual role as change agents.  It may seem odd to view graduate school as the place to learn to make change.  The traditional focus for graduate education is on disciplinary expertise, delving deeply into one’s research area and preparing oneself for joining the ranks of professionals.  In many cases, however, your very presence as a newly minted PhD in an academic context signals that change is occurring.

As a member of the MACH facilitation team, I have designed and participated in several full MACH workshops and customized “mini-MACHs” meant to target individuals who are about to start new academic positions, e.g., hired to be the developer for a new curriculum, a new teaching center, a new STEM major.  At the moment these new hires arrive on their campuses, they embody the change they have been hired to create.  By readying themselves with the skills that can help them achieve the change they seek—by acquiring a change maker’s toolkit—they can increase the likelihood that they will succeed with their change initiative.

During the one-day MACH workshop at Purdue, attendees were introduced to several key foundational concepts regarding change, such as academic structures and cultures, emerging opportunities for change, and effective communication practices for change agents.  The atmosphere at the workshop was intense and supportive, and facilitators and attendees alike brought their formidable talents to this endeavor.  Because I am nearer to the end than the beginning of my academic career, I was heartened by the potential I saw in these colleagues.  The future of STEM education is in very good hands.

If you would like to learn more about the opportunities we have developed at Rose-Hulman for emerging STEM educators to lay a foundation for change, check out our previous on-campus workshops for graduate students.  We are in the process of planning for an emerging STEM educators MACH in the near future.

[1] Yes, some universities still place an actual sheepskin upon the shoulders of the graduating doctor, but then I digress.

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