Dr. Tershia Pinder-Grover: Creating equitable pathways in engineering education
We are honored to share the story of Dr. Tershia Pinder-Grover, Director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning & Teaching in Engineering (CRLT-Engin) and chair of the ASEE CDEI Communications Committee. In her role as CRLT-Engin director, Tershia leads a team focused on advancing engineering education at Michigan Engineering through innovative programming, strategic partnerships, and cultivating individual relationships. In collaboration with the college’s associate deans, she provides leadership on educational priorities, especially as it relates to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). She also works closely with department chairs to create customized programming to meet the needs of their faculty. Her current research interests focus on the adoption of inclusive and equitable teaching practices for engineering instructors.
In the interview below, please enjoy Tershia’s story of belongingness, her commitment to equity-centered engineering, and future plans for DEI programming. At the end of this post, don’t miss the opportunity to connect with our scholar and learn more about the ASEE CDEI efforts.
Q: Can you tell us your story of belongingness?
My story of belongingness is one that could have gone the wrong way, and began before I joined the University of Michigan. As an undergrad engineering student, I experienced some microaggressions at the onset of my college career. I’ll spare the details, but it was very traumatic for me.
But my life began to take a turn for the better when I joined my university’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and engaged wih the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering.
The members in these two groups were amazingly supportive, providing a community where I could relate with others who shared my same struggles and instilled in me the confidence to continue through with my career even when I felt like giving up. These two organizations championed me to become a great engineer, take pride in my accomplishments and the freedom to be my authentic self. The experience contributed to shaping my journey into engineering education
Q: What is your understanding of DEI and why it is important to what you do?
Diversity, equity and inclusion are essential within the context of engineering. When you’re trying to solve a problem, you really need to think about who you’re trying to support and the impact of your solution on people.
Part of what we need to do in engineering is open our minds to the fact that the issue we are solving affects all of society – not just one particular group. Engineers do not always consider the environment in which their product exists and this can have harmful effects on communities, even while improving the lives of others. We’ve seen the detrimental effects of this behavior in artificial intelligence that cannot distinguish between black and brown faces, cars that fail to adequately protect women because their crash tests did not simulate a female driver, and highway systems that cut through communities of color and displace residents.
At Michigan Engineering, we intend for our faculty and students to close societal gaps, rather than unintentionally expand them. We help members of our community become practitioners of equity-centered engineering, a people-first mindset for engineers to adopt and create solutions to make a responsible impact through their work. So in addition to helping engineers master the fundamentals, we instill them with an appreciation of equity and their role in achieving it.
The work I do at CRLT-Engin to support engineering educators helps our future engineers achieve this mindset so the field can become better than what it is today.
Q: Briefly explain the current initiatives that you are doing towards DEI.
I’m really excited to be a part of several initiatives on our local campus. We’re looking at ways to support continuing DEI education for all constituent groups at Michigan Engineering. Previously, Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan, launched a plan to educate students, faculty and staff on DEI starting with a focus on race, ethnicity and bias to prevent social harm.
At CRLT-Engin, we’re helping to move this commitment forward by offering a wide range of professional development opportunities for faculty, graduate student instructors and undergraduate instructors. This includes workshops on equity-focused teaching to support our new instructors and customized DEI workshops for departments, as well as, DEI learning communities for individual faculty. We’re also very intentional in customizing our programming since every instructor is in a different place within their DEI journey.
I’m also a collaborative PI on the NSF-funded Inclusive STEM Teaching Project, which has created a massive open online course (MOOC) to advance the awareness, self-efficacy, and ability of STEM faculty, students and staff to become reflective inclusive practitioners and cultivate equitable learning environments. I have facilitated learning communities and affinity groups for course participants, helping them to think deeply about their identity, student identities, and create an inclusive environment tailored within a STEM context.
Additionally, I work as the ASEE CDEI communications chair to amplify efforts related to DEI for CDEI and highlight the work being done across ASEE divisions and beyond so we can inspire and transform DEI effort broadly. (We’re always looking for new team members to help coordinate messaging and new content for our blog! Please reach out if you’d like to join this team.)
Q: What do you see as the next steps for your DEI work?
I want to scale up this work in a way that is meaningful to individual engineering instructors (including undergraduate and graduate student instructors and faculty) as well as departments to integrate equity considerations into their pedagogy and their curriculum and course design. I was recently apart of a team at Michigan Engineering that recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a Teaching Engineering Equity Center. Through this effort along with the College’s funding, my CRLT-Engin colleagues and I are partnering with our college’s Center for Socially Engaged Design to support faculty members involved with integrating DEI case studies into their coursework while also creating a classroom environment that’s inclusive of all students.
Q: What recommendations do you have for engineering educators to start incorporating social justice topics in their classrooms?
I think people need to start with self-reflection and examine their own conscious and unconscious biases. As engineers, it’s our biases that can be transferred into technology and systems which may create harm for people and exacerbate inequities.
Educators should view equity as a critical component in engineering education. At Michigan Engineering, we combine technical instruction with studies such as ethics, social science, the humanities, history and matters associated with diversity, equity and inclusion. Through this interdisciplinary approach to research and education, we’re capable of identifying solutions that support the common good.
Q: What resource can you recommend to people who want to learn more about DEI in your field?
I would encourage everyone to review CRLT-Engin’s website for resources on how to incorporate inclusive and equity-focused teaching practices. Here are some highlights:
- Tools to Get Started with Equity-Focused Teaching
- Principles of Equity-Focused Teaching
- Equity-focused Teaching Strategies Reflection Sheet (downloaded document)
Recommended papers from our scholar on ASEE Peer:
Connect with our scholar:
ASEE CDEI Communications Committee Volunteers
Introduction and editor: Susan Boerchers, Lafayette College
Volunteer Webmaster: Sarah Lester, California Polytechnic State University
Getting involved with CDEI
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