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) ( 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 Paradox of Organizational Change

In her 2003 book “The Paradox of Organizational Change,” Dr. Maria Malott challenges our conventional assumptions about the nature of organizational change. Change, Malott suggests, is not something unusual, but is a constant part of what we do as members of organizations. Our organizations are always adapting, constantly in the process of blending what is new into what is established, that is, the underlying values and processes of the organization. In this way, our organizations feel stable and consistent while they are, in reality, constantly dealing with changing customers, staff, regulations, technologies, and other elements.

Dr. Maria Malott How is it possible, given that change is the “constant,” that at times change in our organizations is disruptive, appearing to be at odds with organizational culture? Malott adopts the concept of “victim blaming” to explaining this aspect of organizational behaviors. In this case, if an organizational suffers from less than optimal performance or results, there is a tendency to blame those individuals who suffer the most from a poor performing organization, as if they are the culprits. Malott argues that almost everyone in an organization is trying to do a good job, so it is the underlying system that creates successes and failures. And organizations frequently reward individuals who possess perfect track records, rather than recognizing those who try new things with the intent to move the organization forward and perhaps fail. Continue reading “The Paradox of Organizational Change”