What Makes Them Tick?

Ella Ingram


Change agents universally work with colleagues, administrators, internal and external partners, and others. Let’s take as a given that these individuals have priorities and interests about which they are highly motivated. One change strategy that we as change agents can use is describing opportunities to engage in a change project in ways that are motivationally attractive. But first, we have to know what makes them tick.

In his classic essay “Carrots and Sticks”, Jon Wergin described a simple model of faculty motivation in four parts: autonomy, community, recognition, and efficacy (ACRE). This model combines elements of self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci 2000) and what psychologists know about extrinsic motivation (classic reward systems). Although the ACRE model specifically calls out faculty, it gives us direction and tools for creating and framing change activities in ways amenable to the broad community of academic professionals.

First some definitions. Autonomy is the freedom to experiment, to do things without fear of consequences, the power to grow, and to follow one’s own lead especially in ways that add to the common good. Not surprisingly, community is described by participating in the assembly of scholars, belonging to a place and system, playing an important and unique role, and giving and receiving nurturing from colleagues. Recognition comes in any form that causes the individual to feel valued both privately and publicly, to know that one’s work has worth to others, being paid attention to, or holding regard as a professional and scholar. Finally, efficacy means having an impact on the (academic) environment, contributing to the betterment of society, improving oneself to do good and add to quality of life, and escalating skills and abilities. Continue reading “What Makes Them Tick?”

Right This Way to the Faculty Fail Fest!

Julia Williams


Earlier this week I received a notice about the upcoming Fail Fest Wabash Valley 2018, sponsored by our local economic development organization.  During a one-day event, college students can brainstorm new ideas for marketable products, test those ideas, perhaps fail, but then try again.  The premise of the Fail Fest is expressed well in the advertising flyer:  failure leads to insight, understanding, and innovation.

As I considered the allure of Fail Fest for undergraduate students, I was suddenly struck by a thought:  where is the Fail Fest for college professors?  Where is the safe, supportive environment that encourages creative, unconventional ideas?  Where is the place where failure to accomplish a goal results in insight and understanding?   Where is the place where failure results in moving a career forward?

It isn’t easy to envision where the Faculty Fail Fest would take place, since many of us in academic positions understand that failure in our workplace doesn’t usually result in positive outcomes like insight and understanding.

Try a new pedagogy?  If it fails and students record their dissatisfaction in their end of term course evaluations, you may be tempted to turn away from innovation and return to the standard teaching approach.

Explore an innovative research path?  The tenure committee may not recognize or understand the work, or a journal editor may send your manuscript back unread.

Put yourself forward for a new position in your department, college, or university?  As it happened in my case, you may find that the new position goes to another candidate, or disappears entirely because of budget cuts and constraints.  Continue reading “Right This Way to the Faculty Fail Fest!”

Workshop announcement: Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen

Eva Andrijcic


Does this sound familiar?  You have just completed your PhD and landed your first academic job.  You are the newest member of a department that hasn’t hired a fresh PhD in several years.  Your department head tells you that one of your first tasks as a new professor is to revise and update the department’s core required course, the course that students historically hate and that senior members of the department have taught in the same way for 20 years.  Welcome to your real new job title:  change agent!

Emerging engineering educators like you are often expected to design and implement academic change in the form of new curricula, programs, and pedagogies. The category of “emerging engineering educator,” or E3, includes graduate students close to completion of their degrees and assistant professors who are just entering their first jobs.  And often E3 typically don’t have the mindset or the toolset necessary to implement a successful change project. Think about it:  did your graduate program include seminars on the academic environments and resulting cultures, value systems and constraints that will be the core of your first job?  If not, then you may not feel empowered or capable of implementing academic change. Additionally, emerging educators often lack the skills that are necessary for change agents, like, for example, ability to think strategically, obtaining buy-in, and creating partnerships.

Emerging engineering educators have always been an important part of the Making Academic Change Happen (MACH) workshops and community since we first offered the workshop in 2012 on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 2017, we performed a review of our MACH curriculum and conducted a series of interviews with past participants.  From those data, we learned that E3 lack experiential preparation to link MACH to a tangible change project.  They also have a limited and biased exposure to different institutional contexts and academic value systems; for instance, they know their current context and system rather well, but they don’t have much experience with the wide variety of contexts where they might ultimately be hired. Additionally, many of them understand change as something that happens as a result of external forces, and not as a skilled process that is initiated and implemented by individuals.

As a result of our findings, on January 19-20 2019, MACH will host a new immersive workshop, Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen (E3 MACH), open exclusively to emerging engineering educators. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF 1830177), we will fully fund 12 emerging engineering educators from across the U.S.  These individuals will come to the Rose-Hulman campus for an intensive two-day workshop which will focus on three main themes: Knowing Yourself, Cultivating an Allied Community of Colleagues, and Making Change Happen on Campus. Continue reading “Workshop announcement: Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen”

Speaking Truth To Power

Steve Chenoweth

My department once had an idea that we should be able to see the transcripts of all our students, so as to understand how those in our classes, and those who came to ask our help, could be best counseled.

We foresaw this request going smoothly — it would extend our role as advisors in a useful way to more students.  And, as faculty, we were entrusted to give grades, so why were we not also able to see grades?  Other schools allowed this — the notion wasn’t a crazy one-off. The suggestion was so obviously a good thing, we didn’t waste time building a consensus for it before approaching management.

Our request ended, instead, with an impromptu meeting of the entire faculty at which a dean shot down the proposal, while students, administrators, and faculty testified to all sorts of abuses which could be inflicted by it.  Emotions ran high.  Faculty would prejudge students based on past grades, it was claimed.  Who knew what else instructors might do with such unchecked powers?  The word “willy-nilly” was used.  That was that.

The role of the change agent shouldn’t be so crazy hard.  If you know that  something that could be different, and you can say how to improve it, people, especially academic people, ought to listen and consider it using the analytic skills we teach to our students.    This is especially true in STEM educational environments where data and logic prevail.  If this rational approach works in your specific context, then great!  You are all set, and you are almost surely going to offer a change that will benefit students, staff, faculty, and many other stakeholders.

But as my own story illustrates, the change that seems logical and reasonable to you may not appear so to others.  Why doesn’t a good idea always go as planned?  Why doesn’t rationality prevail?  Even as you learn more roundabout ways to appeal to your management, peers, and students, you should understand some of the underlying mechanisms why your objective truth doesn’t “sell” as well as it probably should, or as well as we’ve been taught it should. Continue reading “Speaking Truth To Power”

Change Requires Trust, So Build It

Ella Ingram


I recently read the paper Change Recipients’ Reactions to Organizational Change by Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis. The authors analyzed 60-years’ worth of research on how the people affected by change experiencing change, with the goals of describing the features of this body of work (like organizational contexts studied, psychometric scales used, sample sizes acquired, etc.) and finding major themes of reactions. They highlighted one implication that stood out for them among all others: “the consistent finding concerning the link between organizational trust and support for change highlights the special significance of trust in times of change” (p. 516). This implication points change agents toward trust-building as a critical tool for making change happen.

The action step emerging from Oreg et al.’s work is for a change agent is to ask herself “What strategies can change agents build trust with those who will be affected by change”? This topic is addressed occasionally in the pages of higher education leadership resources (e.g., the Chronicle of Higher Education Administration 101 series, Magna’s Academic Leader newsletter). However, it appears regularly in the Harvard Business Review. With just a bit of mental effort, academic change agents can adopt the recommended business-centric guidelines and apply them to great effect.

Robert Hurley describes seven situational factors and associated questions that can influence the Decision to Trust (also the title of his article). Security, number of similarities, alignment of interests, benevolent concern, capability, predictability and integrity, and level of communication represent factors that, when addressed appropriately, increase trust given to managers, and by extension to change agents. Let’s look at just two of these factors: “alignment of interests” and “predictability and integrity”.

When change agents work to gain trust through alignment of interests, they must sincerely engage in understanding the interests of the people their work will affect. Superficialities will not suffice in this arena. Change agents need to know what things their colleagues need to be successful in their goals. Then, ask yourself “How can I bring my work into alignment with these desires?” For faculty, a major goal is often related to professional productivity, things like papers, conference presentations, invited talks, etc. Can your change project create opportunities for this goal to be met? Do you have social capital emerging from your change work that could be contributed to colleagues? For example, if your change efforts increase the funding available to your area, offer to sponsor professional work that simultaneously advances productivity and the interests of the project (e.g., a publishing effort about the change project itself, supported by research assistants, software tools, or a writing retreat). Finding points of alignment is a way to say to people “We are in this work together and can both be successful”.

Predictability and integrity begin with doing what you say you will do. People need to know that your words have weight. Statements like “I’ll send you that article” or “I’ll invite you to that important committee meeting” or “I’ll champion your application for promotion” are implied promises that the person you promised will remember. Deliver on your promises when you say you will, or don’t make them. Other types of implied promises include accepting an appointment request (so don’t miss a meeting without lots of notice), agreeing to contribute to a blog series managed by a close colleague (so don’t blow off the deadline), and offering to buy lunch out next week for a junior colleague who asks mentoring-type questions (so don’t put it off for two months). These example spring to mind because I’ve done all of these trust-harming behaviors. No more. Change agents can’t afford to have their predictability and integrity questioned.

Alignment and integrity are just two important ways a change agent builds trust. A future post will look at the other situational factors that contribute to trust-building.

Some features that affect trust can’t be influenced by the change agent. Risk tolerance, level of adjustment, and relative power of the person giving trust will all influence how much trust she puts in you as the change agent. But, these three factors can be counterbalanced by the situational factors that influence a person’s trust in the change agent. By asking the trust questions regularly, change agents will find that they are led to act in trust-building ways.

So, what will you do in the next day, week, month, and year to align interests, be predictable, and demonstrate integrity? Take action now; you won’t regret it.

Hurley, R. F. (2006). The decision to trust. Harvard Business Review, September, 55-62.

Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47, 461-524.

Acting for Computer Scientists and Engineers

Julia Williams


Recently, I attended the National Science Foundation’s REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (NSF RED) Principal Investigators Meeting, sponsored by the NSF and organized by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).  At the meeting, engineering and computer science faculty, engineering education researchers, sociologists, organizational change experts, graduate students, and many others (roughly 120 individuals) shared their work on transformational change projects that target engineering and computer science students’ second year.  These projects vary widely—from curriculum changes, to co-curricular activities, to wholesale reorganizations of entire colleges—but one thing the projects hold in common is their focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion(DEI) in STEM.

There are many strategies the RED teams are employing to improve DEI at their institutions, and the sessions at the meeting were their opportunity to share this work with other attendees.  I selected “Theater of the Oppressed and Other Social Justice Stimuli for Organizational Transformations,” as one of the many excellent sessions I attended.  “Theater” was presented by Sarah Provencal, adjunct professor of theater at Winthrop University and Celine Latulipe, professor of software and information systems at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.  But this was no ordinary conference session, where academics stand on stage and lecture attendees on the benefits of active learning while they subject us to PowerPoints and minimal interaction.

Instead Provencal and Latulipe invited us to engage in their subject using acting exercises that they are introducing to their students.  These exercises are based on the work of Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal.  Theater of the Oppressed (TotO) has a long and influential history in theater circles.  Using the work of educator Paolo Friere as a base, Boal developed theatrical forms and techniques as a “means of promoting social and political change. In the Theater of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as spect-actors’ they explore, show, analyze and transform the reality in which they are living” (Wikipedia),

For the RED meeting TotO session, our leaders offered this explanation of the work we would do: Continue reading “Acting for Computer Scientists and Engineers”

Hello … I’m here, can you hear me?

Eva Andrijcic


On July 10 and 11, I attended the National Science Foundation’s REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (NSF RED) Principal Investigators Meeting, sponsored by the NSF and organized by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) (https://redmeeting.asee.org/). This two-day meeting was envisioned as a place where recipients of the coveted NSF RED grants could share experiences and ideas on how to further promote the revolution in engineering and computer science education research and practice. One among the several goals of the meeting was to explore models for changing culture, especially with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

For me, the meeting’s focus on DEI was refreshing and timely.  Attendees were primarily engineering and computer science faculty who are transforming their programs, curricula, and institutional structures. But in order to make their projects sustainable, these change agents must use innovative problem solving and garner widespread support, which can only be achieved when multiple perspectives, experiences and voices are taken into consideration.  In other words, sustainable change projects have to support an inclusive culture which “enables ideas, perspectives, and experiences to be fully leveraged, creating a wide bandwidth for problem solving and innovation” [1].

Many individuals assume that diversity is the same as inclusion. In an interview for Forbes magazine [2], Jennifer Brown, author of “Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change” summarizes the difference between diversity and inclusion as follows:

“Diversity is the who and the what: who’s sitting around that table, who’s being recruited, who’s being promoted, who we’re tracking from the traditional characteristics and identities of gender and ethnicity, and sexual orientation and disability – inherent characteristics that we’re born with. Inclusion, on the other hand, is the how. Inclusion is the behaviors that welcome and embrace diversity. If you are a great leader for inclusion, you have figured out how to embrace and galvanize [the] diversity of voices and identities.”

Katz and Frederick [1] define inclusion as:

“A sense of belonging: Feeling respected, valued, and seen for who we are as individuals; There is a level of supportive energy and commitment from leaders, colleagues, and others so that we – individually and collectively – can do our best work.”

Inclusion is key to implementing successful and sustainable change projects. If we are changing the status quo, we need to consider how our ideas will impact involved individuals, especially those who do not currently feel empowered to voice their opinions.  We need to establish processes that invite their diverse knowledge and partner with them to build a better and more sustainable solution.

How do we go about creating an environment in which people who are rarely heard from feel safe and able to contribute and express themselves? How do we create an environment in which people feel that their contributions are appreciated? Continue reading “Hello … I’m here, can you hear me?”

The Fear of the Unknown

Eva Andrijcic

I’d like to challenge you to a little gamble. Imagine that I show you a large jar that is filled with 90 marbles. You cannot see inside of the jar, but I tell you that the jar contains exactly 90 marbles, and of those exactly 30 are yellow, and the other sixty are a combination of black and red marbles, but the actual ratio of them is unknown. Each marble is as likely to be drawn out of the jar as any other.

Gamble A: You’ll get $100 if you draw a yellow marble

Gamble B: You’ll get $100 if you draw a black marble

If you picked A, you’re not alone! In fact, economist Daniel Ellsberg showed that in situations like this, individuals overwhelmingly tend to pick wagers for which they know the expected outcomes versus wagers for which the expected outcome is unknown. In the example above, you know that you have a 1 in 3 chance of drawing a yellow marble, but you don’t know what the proportion of black marbles is;  there could be anywhere from 1 – 59 black marbles in the jar. So, despite the fact that the likelihood of picking a black marble could be much higher than that of picking a yellow one, in general, when confronted with incomplete information, individuals select the value for which they know the outcome. This is called the Ellsberg paradox.

The marble example is relevant to any discussion of change.  For many of us, changing strategy is hard because the outcomes are ambiguous. Why change the strategy which has for so long resulted in predictable results, if we cannot guarantee with some level of certainty that the change will result in anything better? Why settle for the evil we don’t know, when we can choose the evil we do? Ellsberg and other behavioral economists have proven that people in general dislike and fear ambiguity in business and personal situations. We are wired to resist ambiguity, and recent research shows that even our close primate relatives dislike ambiguity [1].  In practice we often choose suboptimal strategies to avoid the fear of the unknown: from choosing a good old restaurant we always go to instead of trying a new one that might be better, to preferring bonds and deposits over stocks in our portfolios because of the volatility of stock prices.

So, what does this have to do with change? Very often when we ask people to join our change efforts, or when we seek support and buy-in, we might ignore the fact that we are asking people to suspend their fear of the unknown. We don’t always have all of the answers ready; the outcomes caused by our change might be ambiguous, as might be our communication with those impacted. Yet we ask people to trust us and our experience. Sometimes they might not be able to do so immediately, not because they don’t believe in us or our change initiatives, but because they are afraid of the unknown. That is completely natural, and we should anticipate that response!

So, what can we do? First of all, we can accept resistance to ambiguity as a natural gut reaction, and proactively seek areas where people we talk to might want more clarity. We can reduce ambiguity of communication by truthfully acknowledging the existence of ambiguity in the process, goals or outcomes of our change initiative. We can try to reduce those ambiguities as much as possible by drawing parallels to similar examples or experiences at our or other institutions. We can try to implement our change initiatives in increments to give individuals time to assess and adjust to the unknown. We can also point out to individuals the presence of the Ellsberg paradox – bring the unconscious to the forefront so that people think more deeply about the factors that are guiding their decision making. Continue reading “The Fear of the Unknown”

Art of Listening

Sriram Mohan

Seek first to understand, then to be Understoodblur-business-close-up-597327

As a change agent, you may encounter people who have strong objections to your change idea. Some of the critiques you hear are substantive, while others are not. The strategies that have to be employed to counter these critiques are radically different. John Kotter’s book Buy-In [1] is a great read and can help you determine the right strategy for the situation. But the focus of Kotter’s book is helping you create responses when you engage in arguments.    What is less obvious is using a strategy of silence, focusing instead on listening rather than talking. This is something I struggle with often and I have gone down the rabbit hole of engaging with a non-substantive argument, when the right strategy would have been to stop talking and start listening.

I recently attended a workshop on academic leadership and a module on listening struck a chord with me. A good change agent is often a skilled negotiator and a master at conflict resolution. A vital tool in the negotiator’s arsenal is the ability to understand the other perspective. The change agent can achieve this by using the strategy of deep listening.   According to Dr. William Ury, deep listening builds rapport, creates a sense of empathy, and increases the feeling of being heard. This increases the chances of your own perspective being heard and thereby has the potential to create buy-in [2].

So, how do you become a good listener? Much like every other tool that a change agent deploys, this is one that requires practice. A good listener has to actively stop thinking and pay attention. It is natural for you to start strategizing your response to the speaker. The focus of your thinking has to shift from your response to the speakers’ perspective. Put yourself firmly in their shoes and try to figure out what they are saying, what they are not saying, and the emotions behind their thoughts.  One way to achieve this is to ask the right questions. Asking powerful questions is valuable; however, sometimes asking questions in general is seen as a sign of weakness and ignorance and thus is not valued. Don’t worry about looking weak.  Asking the right questions can go a long way in improving as a listener.

The key phrase that I took away from the book was “humble inquiry.”  “Humble inquiry is the skill and art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person” [3]. This type of inquiry is not characterized by a specific set of questions. It is, however, based on minimizing our own preconceptions, assuming positive intent and clearing our minds at the beginning of a conversation. Asking the right type of questions to diagnose the situation at hand can be very helpful. Some good questions to consider include: Continue reading “Art of Listening”

Always go sleeveless

Steve Chenoweth, RHIT

At some point in promoting change, we epiphanize that all the commitment, energy, processes, logic, and artifices put into our effort don’t guarantee success.  Change is not, after all, a sure thing.  Highly compromised ideas, other priorities, and inertia could still win the day.  What to do now?  Time to back off, get away, and reflect.

At Synectics,[1] where I once sought frequent idea help, we would stop thinking about our conundrum on purpose.  They call it an “excursion.”  After a long ordeal of trying to make the important thing happen, you Excurt by getting involved in something completely different:  Go for a bike ride, getting lost in Boston traffic.  Learn to play “London Bridge” on the accordion.  Switching your mindset eventually brings you back with fresh focus on the problem.

As a result, you may realize, perhaps, that everyone else at your institution possesses a mindset when it comes to your desired change, a mindset many won’t spontaneously leave behind just because you advocate for your change.  They may even relish engaging you in dear old academic disputation about it, winning points for their perspective by poking at yours.  Remember, these are your co-workers.  You respect one another.  Yet, for them, “new” equals “threatening,” in the Kurt Lewin[2] sense.  Their perspective is grounded in weak assumptions and anxieties more than by broad critical thinking, at least from your point of view.  So, wouldn’t it be helpful to inspire them to take an excursion too?

Continue reading “Always go sleeveless”