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BEING HUMAN IN STEM

The goal of the Being Human in STEM class is to create a space for dialogue between STEM students and STEM faculty to investigate together the theme of diversity and climate within STEM. The course combines academic inquiry and individual stories to understand how students’ identities shape their experience in STEM.

Course Description


The course has two components that are intertwined throughout the semester:

    • Reading and discussion: during one of the two weekly class meetings, we ground our understanding through critical reading of primary scholarly research as well as media sources (e.g. podcasts, films); occasionally we’ll welcome guests to enrich and inform our discussions. Example topics include: implicit bias, stereotype threat, imposter syndrome, antiracism, intersectionality, as well as the role in STEM of gender, race, LGBTQIA+ identity, dis/ability, and many others.
    • Project development: the other weekly class meeting is devoted to the design, execution and evaluation of interventions led by the students with the goal of improving the experience of STEM students at the U.

At the end of the semester, students present their group projects to the campus community via a public event.

As a class we read “How to be an Antiracist” by X. Kendi
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Podcast with President Watkins
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Spring 2020 Students’ Final Report
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Spring 2021 Student Symposium
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Spring 2023 class: Overview of student projects


Below is an overview of the four student projects from Spring 2023 presented at the HSTEM Symposium on May 3, 2023.

  • This project brings attention to the existence of implicit and explicit bias and its negative impact on the University community. Bias impacts students' sense of belonging, therefore this team encourages continuous education on bias for both faculty and students. This team created the following bias training resources:

    • A set of Slides that can be used by administrators/facilitators/faculty leaders to lead bias workshops for faculty.
    • A set of Slides that can be used by faculty/instructor/Teaching Assistants/student leaders (in clubs or student organizations) to lead bias training/discussions for students.

     

  • By analyzing data on bathroom counts, square footage, and stall counts in STEM buildings (College of Engineering and College of Science) at the U, this team identified inequities (size and number) between male and female restrooms, and an overall lack of gender-neutral restrooms.  Students argued that these inequities can make STEM an unwelcoming environment for non-male students. This team recommended: (1) repurposing current bathrooms to be designated as gender neutral, and (2) providing signage to the closest female/gender-neutral bathroom to reduce the time it takes for non-male students to locate a bathroom.

    For more details on this project, read the student Report and visit their Symposium Presentation Slides.

  • The cost of college tuition is constantly increasing and many students at the U struggle to pay for college. This team created and disseminated a survey to understand the financial challenges faced by students at the U. Results of the survey indicated a need to better connect students to the Financial Resources that are already available on campus (see more details on their Symposium Presentation Slides). To help bridge the gap, this team created:

    • A handout for Faculty and Administrators with recommendations on how to better support and connect with students in need of financial help.
    • A handout for Students with recommendation on how to access Financial Resources on campus and seek more support when in need.
  • This team developed and disseminated a survey to assess inclusion and safety as experienced by STEM students at the U who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Survey respondents reported experiencing discrimination through misgendering and discriminatory jokes, and overall, experiencing stigma and lack of safe spaces. This project identified a need for more education about LGBTQ+ identities for all campus members (faculty/instructors, research teams, students) and suggested resources and interventions to tackle issues of safety and inclusivity. Find more details on the student Report and Symposium Presentation Slides.

Spring 2022 class: Overview of student projects


Below is an overview of the two student projects from Spring 2022 which were presented at the HSTEM Symposium on May 3rd, 2022.

  • This group surveyed transfer students in STEM at the U to better understand the challenges experienced by transfer students and inform future actions to support their success at the University. (Note: They defined a transfer student as someone who has come to the University of Utah after attending a different college/university (2 year, 4 year, etc.))

    Link to slides with summary of Survey findings presented at the Symposium.

    Resources for transfer students:

    • Transfer Workshop Series: designed specifically for transfer students to learn about a variety of university services and opportunities, and to connect with other students
    • Crimson-Mentors: Mentors are available for support, and advise mentees about campus life at the University of Utah, as well as provide social, academic, and professional programs and workshops for their mentees.
    • Crimson Transfer Honors Society: strives to recognize the academic excellence attained by transfer students during their first semesters at the University of Utah. Eligibility is determined by both your GPA in first twelve credit hours and attendance of Transfer Workshop events during first semester(s).
    • Transferology: tool that can help you see how courses from other institutions will transfer into the university.
  • This group focused on improving the communication between students and professors in STEM. They identified that the existing University Course Feedback tool is under-utilized.This tool has the potential to: 1) inform instructors about students’ experience in their courses to guide course improvements; 2) provide reliable information about classes and instructors with other students considering taking these classes. To bring awareness to students of the importance of University Course Feedback surveys, this group created three short videos explaining why it is important to submit course feedback, how to submit the course feedback, and where to find previous course feedback. The three videos are linked here below and they are meant to be used and shared by instructors, staff, and faculty at the U.

    Link to slides of student presentation at the Symposium.

    Link to videos made by the students:

Spring 2021 class: Overview of student projects


Below is an overview of the four student projects from Spring 2021. You can also watch a 10-minute summary presentation of each project at the Symposium Recording. Find slides and contact information at the Symposium page.

  • Starting the Conversation: Diversity in STEM is a reading group consisting of STEM students, faculty, and staff, discussing the barriers, efforts, and accomplishments related to diversifying STEM in our community. Prior to each meeting, participants are invited to look at multimedia sources relevant to the topic of the next discussion. Students were able to hold a first meeting in April 2021 and are looking for ways to continue this project beyond the course.

  • The Disabilities and Access in STEM group has surveyed students, faculty, and staff in order to get a better understanding of the STEM college climate with regards to disabilities and identify barriers that those who identify as disabled may be facing. They have presented their survey results at the end-semester Symposium. In addition, they have been working on establishing the Disability and Access in STEM student organization that seeks to create a more equitable space for everyone in STEM.

  • The Retention of Underrepresented Groups in STEM Majors Via Peer Mentorship group developed a proposal for a formal STEM Peer Mentoring program that could be used by all the STEM colleges with the goal to create an opportunity for every student to have a mentor that will motivate and guide them through the completion of their degree. Peer-to-Peer Mentoring can significantly increase retention in STEM classes and careers.

  • The Supportive Classroom STEM-vironment Workshop is a two-part workshop series developed and led by a group of students in the class to provide suggestions for instructors and teaching teams on how to create a supportive and inclusive classroom environment.

Spring 2020 class: Overview of student projects


In its first implementation at the University of Utah in Spring 2020 the course had students enrolled from three different colleges: the College of Science, the College of Engineering, and the College of Mines and Earth Sciences. As a class, students and faculty read the book “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and attended his Tanner talk at the U in February 2020.

For the final class project, students collected survey data from STEM students across campus and asked them about their positive and negative experiences with respect to inclusivity and diversity. Students discussed the results of the survey with President Watkins as part of her U Rising podcastLink to podcast episode.

Students compiled a final semester report that summarizes the highlights of the class as well as the main results of the survey data.

Final Semester Report

About Being Human in STEM


  • The idea of a course called Being Human in STEM came from chemistry Professor Sheila Jaswal from Amherst College in response to Fall 2015 racial controversies across several American college campuses. The student protests brought to light a need for dialogue between students and faculty about inclusivity; this need was even more acute in STEM where often students perceive that their “identity should remain at the door.” Conversely, Being Human in STEM asserts that students’ identities matter. Every student deserves the space and freedom  to be themselves in a STEM classroom.  A course with the same purpose, Race and Gender in the Scientific Community, was already initiated at Brown University in 2014 by students, including Black women, and then adopted by the University. Amherst’s and Brown’s allied courses connected in 2016. Since then the Being Human in STEM course has been taught with the following mission:

    Collaboratively designed project that aims to foster a more inclusive, supportive STEM community and develop a framework for students and faculty to understand and navigate diverse identities in the classroom and beyond.

    Inspired by Amherst’s and Brown’s work, several other colleges in the Northeast (e.g. Yale University) started their own implementation of the course. Claudia De Grandi, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) of Educational Practice, co-taught the class twice at Yale University before she joined the University of Utah in 2018. Being Human in STEM had never been offered at a public university before, and Dr. De Grandi was delighted to spearhead the implementation of this course at the University of Utah.

    The course was offered for the first time at the University of Utah in Spring 2020, co-taught by five instructors  across the College of Science: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), Kelly MacArthur (Mathematics), Jon Rainier (Chemistry), Holly Sebahar (Chemistry), Anil Seth (Physics & Astronomy). Second course implementation: Spring 2021 Instructors: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), Amanda Cangelosi (Mathematics), David Carrier (School of Biological Sciences), Sushma Saraf (Chemistry), Suresh Venkatasubramanian (School of Computing).

    The course will be offered once a year in the spring semester.

    The course is supported and managed under the Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME) and satisfies the Diversity (DV) requirement.

  • This class will help you develop a deeper understanding of the culture of STEM, its opportunities, inequities, and potential for change. Being Human in STEM will give you the tools to identify how you can uniquely contribute to innovation and inclusivity in STEM as a student as well as a future scientist, academic, teacher, etc.

    In addition, this class satisfies the DV requirement.

    Quote from students in the class:

    Being Human in STEM was an amazing class that helped me to develop my voice as a woman, a student of color, and an immigrant from a developing country in a STEM field. This class allowed us as students to explore different facets of identity and how identity affects one’s experience in STEM through a deep dive into rich and diverse literature, and small open discussions with each other and guests – some students, some staff – from departments all over campus. It created a space for students and instructors of different backgrounds to interact and learn from each other. We spoke about all the touchy topics civilly and constantly changed each other’s minds in a way I did not previously think was possible. Whatever our background was – our color, gender, religion, national origin, etc. –  we were all able to recognize that what we and others had to share was important, and that all of our voices matter and deserve to be heard. It radically changed my view of what a STEM environment could and should be like for everyone. The Being Human in STEM class allowed us all to rapidly improve our understanding of the eponymous idea of the class together in an unprecedented way.
    — Kori, Being Human in STEM 2020

     

    This has been one of the rare courses where not only do the students have an opportunity to learn something new, but also the opportunity to develop morally. As much as I loved my chemistry courses, electron pushing and calculating intrinsic properties did not leave me with a greater understanding of my personal ethics. This class filled that gap.
    — 
    Brock Coleman, Being Human in STEM 2021

     

    This class gave me the tools I need to be more inclusive and bring more humanity into STEM and the world, it has really just opened the door for me to realize that I have so much more to learn and experience. I am humbled by what little I know and how much I have to learn, but this class has given me the tools to start asking why? And re-examining my perceptions and how the dominant culture influences the foundations of our societies. It is by asking these questions and coming to these realizations that will then allow me to understand how we and I begin to dismantle it. Thank you all for giving us these tools!
    — Sam Bagge (Geology),  Being Human in STEM 2021

     

    I really enjoyed the setup of the class! The small enrollment size, with both students and professors involved in the discussions, helped me get to know everyone in the room. [..] In my experience, there always seemed to be an invisible communication barrier between students and professors, and this form of discussion opened a line of communication. I enjoyed that the professors were willing to listen to our inputs and ideas, and I was able to learn from them as well!
    — Lauren, Being Human in STEM 2022

     

    Being Human in STEM has been undoubtedly one of the most influential courses I have taken in my life. I found myself constantly grateful for the conversations that I was able to participate in, wishing I had been able to have them years ago. Each of the discussions and reading assignments provoked a deep reflection on myself and the larger society of STEM and the world. Though this class, I discovered a more informed, confident, and passionate voice towards important social issues, as well as more words to express my thoughts and feelings around them. I found myself engaging in meaningful conversations in a very safe environment that I otherwise would not have participated in, and because of that I learned the importance of engaging instead of constantly opting out of conversations that were hard to have.
    — 
    Ben, Physics Teaching – Being Human in STEM 2022

    • The course meets twice a week: Tue-Thurs 2-3:55pm
    • Credit: 3 units (it satisfies the DV requirement)
    • Cross-listed with HONOR 3990 (it qualifies for Honors Elective credits)
    • Community Engaged Learning (CEL) course
    • Enrollment cap: 20 via instructor approval

    This course welcomes students across STEM fields and pre-medical students. Students who do not major in STEM but are interested in the course may be approved upon instructor’s consent.

    The course will be taught again in Spring 2023.

    Spring 2020 Instructors: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), Kelly MacArthur (Mathematics), Jon Rainier (Chemistry), Holly Sebahar (Chemistry), Anil Seth (Physics & Astronomy).

    Spring 2021 Instructors: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), Amanda Cangelosi (Mathematics), David Carrier (School of Biological Sciences), Sushma Saraf (Chemistry), Suresh Venkatasubramanian (School of Computing).

    Spring 2022 Instructors: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), James Gagnon (School of Biological Sciences), Holly Godsey (Geology & Geophysics), Eliane Wiese (School of Computing).

    Spring 2023 Instructors: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), Rodrigo Noriega (Chemistry), Caroline Saouma (Chemistry), Seetha Veeraghanta (LEAP Academic Learning Community).

    Spring 2024 Instructors: Claudia De Grandi (Physics & Astronomy), Jordan Gerton (Physics & Astronomy), Rodolfo Probst (SRI Fellow, Biology)

    Please contact Dr. De Grandi with any questions and to ask about permission codes for this course.

  • U of U students have so many resources available that it is sometimes difficult to navigate all of them. We have compiled a list of what we found most helpful.

    STEM-Specific Resources

    Transfer students Resources:

    • Office of Transfer Student Success, overview of resources from the Office of Undergraduate Studies
    • Transfer Workshop Series: designed specifically for transfer students to learn about a variety of university services and opportunities, and to connect with other students
    • Crimson-Mentors: Mentors are available for support, and advise mentees about campus life at the University of Utah, as well as provide social, academic, and professional programs and workshops for their mentees.
    • Crimson Transfer Honors Society: strives to recognize the academic excellence attained by transfer students during their first semesters at the University of Utah. Eligibility is determined by both your GPA in first twelve credit hours and attendance of Transfer Workshop events during first semester(s).
    • Transferology: tool that can help you see how courses from other institutions will transfer into the university.

    There are many more resources available at the U, you can find the full list at the links below:

  • As a class, we have looked into the publicly available data from the Office of Budget & Institutional Analysis (OBIA) at the U https://www.obia.utah.edu/ to search for the current situation of STEM at the U.

    Here are some examples of what the class found interesting in Spring 2020:

    • 16.6% of STEM majors at the U are from underrepresented minority groups
    • 3.2% of STEM faculty at the U are from underrepresented minority groups

    Everyone can access the OBIA data to search for more specific information by college, major, course, etc.