A new program at Carnegie Mellon University is providing support to faculty to help students thrive in more inclusive classroom experiences.
The Provost’s Inclusive Teaching Fellows (PITF) provides a $5,000 fellowship for an academic year for faculty who are working with the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation to develop and disseminate new approaches to inclusive and equitable teaching in their classrooms. The program, announced in December 2019, was designed and implemented by the Eberly Center and is co-funded by the Office of the Provost and a gift from the Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh that funds elements of academic success.
“As the national conversation pivots to finding real-world solutions to racial and cultural inequity, we saw this as an opportunity to operationalize our commitment to inclusion and quickly identified the classroom as one of the most, if not the most, critical venues to be discussing and demonstrating the practice and benefits of full inclusion and equity in our community,” said James H. Garrett, Jr., provost and chief academic officer for CMU.
In addition, the program is one of the Strategic Actions for Confronting Racism and Promoting Equity and Inclusion announced this summer aimed at engaging every member of the CMU community to work together to build and sustain an inclusive culture that promotes equity for all and is intolerant of racism, discrimination and bias.
“CMU was taking an important stance on teaching with inclusivity, and the opportunity aligned with what I was doing in the teaching track,” Sherwood said. “I also applied because of my own experiences, here at CMU, and my lived experiences coming from a small island.”
Sherwood, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, came to CMU for her Ph.D. in chemistry. Since graduation, she joined the faculty and won the Mellon College of Science’s 2020 Julius Ashkin Teaching Award for her devotion and effectiveness in teaching.
As part of her chemistry course portfolio, she co-teaches “The Design and Making of Skin and Hair Products,” with Gloria Silva, an associate teaching professor of chemistry.
“I went to the nearest pharmacy, and I could not find hair products. For me, a black female, that was kind of crazy,” she said. “How do you go in the shampoo section and can’t find shampoo? How do you even know what is the best shampoo to use for the type of hair you have? Turns out, it was in the ethnic section. Ethnic shampoo has the same ingredients as any other shampoo, but maybe different concentrations of oils. Yet, my shampoo needs its own section. My hair products need their own section.”
She also said that interest in beauty transcends age, race, gender identity, culture, ethnicity and religion. Sherwood is using the Inclusive Teaching Fellow award to refine the course to help teach students concepts related to how to create skin care products for people with diverse backgrounds.
“We can use science to explain these broader classifications and manufacture products that target these specific groups, but there is a lack of understanding among each of these groups on why there is need for these differences,” she said. “I think the student who leaves the course able to say that they fully understand the chemistry of their hair and skin and at the same time understand the chemistry of their neighbors’ hair and skin, is the successful student.”
Jen Gilbride-Brown, an assistant vice provost, along with Chad Hershock, the Eberly Center’s director of Faculty and Graduate Student Programs, participated on the committee selecting the inaugural cohort of teaching fellows. She said that having an inclusive academic experience is as important as having an inclusive non-academic experience at the university.
“The provost’s leadership has made crystal clear that engaging and creating an inclusive and transformative environment for all students at CMU must include the classroom and be meaningful,” Gilbride-Brown added.
Hershock added that prior research suggests strong relationships among students’ sense of belonging, their motivation and learning outcomes.
“The faculty in the first PITF cohort are doing impressive, transferable work on how to increase students’ sense of belonging by centering diversity, equity and inclusion in CMU courses,” Hershock said. “We look forward to disseminating lessons learned across campus.”
The first cohort was planned to have five fellows, but because the number and quality of applications were so high, Provost Garrett provided more funding, and 11 faculty were selected to participate. The provost recently committed to fund a second round of awards and to increase the number of new fellowships to 20 faculty.
During the year-long fellowship, each faculty fellow collaborates with a team of Eberly Center consultants, who bring expertise in learning science, inclusive teaching, technology-enhanced learning and measurement of student outcomes.
Haden is redesigning “Acting III,” a course taken by juniors in acting and musical theater. The traditional curriculum draws heavily on European theater such as Greek plays and material by Anton Chekhov. He said that there’s benefit to learning the material, but there was also room for growth in the course.
“The students have been talking for several years about not feeling connected or not being clear about why we were doing this kind of work, and there has been a desire to look at the curriculum and be responsive to students’ needs,” Haden said. “As the oldest drama school in the country, we have a responsibility to be forward thinking and try to figure out how we can prepare students best for the industry that is happening now, not the industry that existed 20 or 40 years ago.”
One of the reasons behind the changes in the class, Haden said, is to get students to bring themselves fully to their work in different ways.
“The idea is that students from marginalized cultures are getting an opportunity to dig into their culture — to bring themselves to the work and investigate their acting process through playing something in an experience that they can relate to,” he said. It also allows students who are entering from a dominant culture to have the opportunity to enter an arena where they can gain new perspective.
“Hopefully this creates an experience that maybe will bring people together a little bit more,” he said. “We’re always looking for opportunities in society to do that, and stories are a great vehicle.”
Because “Acting III” is taught three times throughout the year, the Provost’s Inclusive Teaching Faculty Fellow program is providing him not only with material to change future courses, but also opportunities to get feedback in real time. Hershock is his Eberly mentor, and the two meet every other week.
“It’s like teaching therapy,” said Haden who has taught at CMU and other higher education institutions for 11 years. “It helps to frame things moving forward so each lesson can be a little bit more effective. That kind of real-time adjustment and feedback has been really great.”
In addition to meeting individually with Eberly consultants, the fellows meet monthly as a special interest group, providing opportunities for faculty to discuss their challenges and successes as well as how best to implement evidence-based principles of inclusive teaching.
“For example, these faculty conversations recently crowdsourced strategies to maximize equity across the learning experiences of remote and in-person students in hybrid courses taught during the pandemic,” Hershock said.
Jerry Wang, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who joined the College of Engineering faculty in 2019, said the conversations have been invigorating and reaffirm his commitment to providing the best teaching experience possible for his students.
“I want to empower every single student to believe they can master the material in this course, but even more so that this material is worth mastering,” he said.
Wang teaches “Introduction to Computational and Data Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering,” a sophomore-level course that gives engineering majors a rigorous introduction to numerical methods and principles of data science. Even though these subjects are traditionally defined by objective problems with objective solutions, he said there are avenues to elevate diversity and inclusivity. For example, through the fellowship, he’s developing modules for the course that introduce students to the mathematically subtle ways that bias can enter data. He also plans to highlight historical and contemporary narratives.
“There are a lot of folks of every race and every gender and every background, who you might not find in the textbooks, who have made huge contributions to this field,” Wang said. “I want students to see that people in the field look every bit like the diversity that we have in this classroom.”
Provost Inclusive Teaching Fellow Recipients
Rosalyn Abbott, assistant professor of biomedical engineering
Mark Bedillion, associate teaching professor of mechanical engineering
Christina Bjorndahl, special faculty of philosophy
Leslie Donaldson, assistant teaching professor of arts management
Felipe Gómez, teaching professor of Hispanic studies
Kai Gutschow, associate professor of architecture
Kyle Haden, interim senior associate head and assistant professor of acting
Geoff Kaufman, assistant professor of human-computer interaction
Gizelle Sherwood, associate teaching professor of chemistry
Necia Werner, associate teaching professor of English
Gerald Wang, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering