Alexandra Strong, assistant professor at SUCCEED (School of Universal Computing, Construction, and Engineering Education) and the STEM Transformation Institute, is a principal investigator on a five year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Developing Engineering Instructional Faculty as Leaders of Educational Change at Hispanic-Serving Institutions.”
The project seeks to amplify the existing efforts of engineering instructional faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and to develop them as leaders of engineering educational change.
Strong is working in collaboration with lead principal investigator Meagan Kendall, assistant professor of engineering education at the University of Texas El Paso, and two colleagues from the University of Miami (UM), assistant professor in practice Ines Basalo and senior instructional designer Gemma Henderson.
Strong and her collaborators have been working together to support engineering faculty at HSIs for the past three years. In 2018, they held a two-day workshop at UM called “Rethinking Engineering Education at HSIs.” The majority of attendees were instructional faculty, and many of them came from FIU. “We listened and learned from the teaching faculty about their successes in the classroom and their challenges,” Strong says.
There is a rise in the number of full-time, non-tenure-eligible instructional faculty in higher education. While these faculty members pursue active learning strategies and see themselves as professional teachers, they are not commonly found at educational conferences, sharing their work or participating in professional development.
“These faculty members are underexplored in the literature, and, at the same time, they’re often under-supported within their institutions,” she says.
So when Strong began her position at FIU in August of 2018, she wanted to learn from instructional faculty at FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. Instructional faculty play a critical role in an engineering student’s experience and are continually exploring approaches to improve students’ learning experiences (e.g., incorporating learning assistants into their courses). Strong saw an opportunity to partner with and support these faculty, especially as they seek to implement culturally responsive, evidence-based approaches in engineering.
The project will iteratively design and implement a faculty leadership development model that intentionally addresses the institutional context of an HSI and enables faculty use of more culturally responsive instructional practices.
In the second and fourth years of the project, they will host a two-day coaching-style workshop for engineering instructional faculty. The workshops will focus on a design-thinking approach to curriculum development and emphasize interactive prototyping of concepts for influencing educational change. After each workshop, virtual office hours will be held to help participants continue developing their projects and ideas.
The idea is to develop a model of faculty development that is both cross-institutional and within-institutional, creating a culture of peer mentoring locally and across HSIs. At FIU, Strong will work with the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and the STEM Transformation Institute to support long-term sustainability.
The first step of the project is to learn, says Strong. The team will conduct interviews with engineering instructional faculty at six HSIs, a mix of public, private, two year, and four-year institutions.
“Even though one of the members of our team is an instructional faculty, we cannot presume to know the experiences of all engineering instructional faculty at HSIs. This first step will give us an opportunity to learn from and learn more about these diverse faculty.”
Her goal for the grant is to foster real growth for engineering instructional faculty, in whatever way they need.
“Some are doing amazing work but need help spreading the word about their teaching, while others are interested in changing the design of their classes but they’re teaching so much, they don’t have the time. I would love to see this project amplify the educational innovation and change work of engineering instructional faculty not only within their courses, but in their colleges and in HSIs more broadly as well.”