- Progress continues toward a more diverse, inclusive MIT
- EAPS welcomes Heising-Simons fellow Ian Wong
- Lessons in learning
Posted: 07 Feb 2018 06:13 PM PST
Since a watershed meeting just over two years ago, when representatives from the Black Students' Union and the Black Graduate Student Association met with President L. Rafael Reif, the administration has introduced a number of changes intended to enhance diversity and inclusion at MIT.
These changes have been guided by two sets of recommendations, one from the BSU and one from the BGSA, that emerged from this initial meeting. Many of the recommendations — particularly those involving orientation for incoming students, mental health services, implicit bias training, financial aid, and student surveys and data collection — have now been partially or completely implemented. Discussions are under way to address other recommendations for department-level actions, administration leaders have told MIT News.
The scope of individual recommendations has varied — from enhancing diversity orientation for incoming students to developing and implementing a 10-year plan to increase the number of graduate students from underrepresented minority groups — and thus so has the timeframe for responding to them, according to Vice President Kirk Kolenbrander.
"Many changes could be implemented relatively quickly, and they have been. Others must be addressed across departments that vary greatly in their size, organizational structure, and standard operating procedures, so these require creative thinking and a sustained effort," Kolenbrander says.
A multifaceted response
Kolenbrander has convened an Academic Council working group, consisting of students, faculty, and senior officers, dedicated to addressing these recommendations. With DiOnetta Jones Crayton, the associate dean for undergraduate education and director of the Office of Minority Education, he has also convened another group to align staff who are advancing diversity and inclusion issues across the Institute. These groups have worked alongside Ed Bertschinger, the Institute's community and equity officer, and Judy "JJ" Jackson, who joined MIT in 2016 as the diversity and inclusion officer.
The BSU and BGSA remain engaged in following up on their recommendations. The BSU's political action committee, for example, is planning a survey to learn more about how the administration's responses thus far have impacted students.
"MIT was very responsive and we're very happy with the actions that have been taken, but we still want to make sure that the Institute remains accountable to the commitment that it's made," says third-year student Gabrielle Ballard, who co-chairs the BSU with third-year student Anthony Rolland and chairs the BSU political action committee.
"I hope that MIT will continue to engage with the students in order to figure out what the best plan is moving forward," says Tsehai Grell, a BGSA member who has served on the group's executive board and helped to draft the recommendations in 2015. "I'd like to see [Institute leadership] make sure student involvement continues. It has to be a unified effort. Everybody needs to be involved."
Still other members of the MIT community have responded to the black student groups' recommendations as well. For example, graduate student Ty Austin leads the diversity and inclusion subcommittee of the Graduate Student Council, which recently organized a network of students whose goal is to further diversity and inclusion efforts in academic departments.
When the BSU and BGSA presented their recommendations, the administration also invited other members of the MIT community to share additional ideas for making MIT a more welcoming, inclusive place. More than 90 are now under consideration or being actively addressed. For example, the Institute recently received permission from state authorities to launch a pilot program with four all-gender bathrooms on campus.
Enhancing mental health and counseling services
Both the BSU and BGSA have put forward recommendations for enhancing mental health and counseling services and hiring staff with expertise in race-based traumatic stress.
In October 2016, MIT hired Karen Singleton, who specializes in multicultural psychology and trauma, as chief of Mental Health and Counseling and associate medical director at MIT Medical. Three clinicians with expertise in race-based trauma have also been appointed: Cecil Webster Jr., Leslie Langston, and Erik Marks.
Recent activities by Mental Health and Counseling staff have included antioppression training for staff; the formation of a multicultural competency counseling team; development of a workshop series on the imposter phenomenon; a biweekly event called Let's Chat@OME, which allows students to drop into the Office of Minority Education and talk with mental health and counseling staff; and biweekly therapy groups for graduate students of color.
Orientation and implicit bias training
The Office of Multicultural Programs and the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) made a number of changes to the orientation programs for undergraduate and graduate students in the last two years.
In fall 2016 and 2017, incoming first-year students participated in small focus-group conversations on diversity and inclusion, facilitated by a trained conversation leader. MIT also began making modifications in fall 2016 to the graduate student orientation, including a dedicated networking reception for graduate students from underrepresented minority groups to meet senior leaders, faculty, and returning graduate students, and to learn about campus resources. The graduate students of color welcome planning committee is composed of graduate students, and OGE staff are beginning to discuss additional changes for 2018.
Implicit bias training, which the BGSA recommended for faculty, staff, and students, was launched in 2017 in several areas of the Institute, including the Institute Community and Equity Office, the Teaching and Learning Lab, Human Resources, Academic Council, and some academic departments.
Surveys and data collection
Other student recommendations related to collecting and sharing data about the MIT student body, broken down by race and other identity groups, could inform other efforts to further diversity and inclusion at the Institute.
These recommendations have led, for example, to the publication of a diversity dashboard, in cooperation with the Institutional Research section of the Office of the Provost. Targeted questions have also been added to key student surveys and the results made public. And, the Office of the Registrar is publishing a report on the number of underrepresented minority students by course and year on its enrollment page, which is available to members of the MIT community.
The BSU has also met with Stu Schmill, the dean of admissions and student financial services, to review data collected by that office and work together to plan new efforts to increase acceptance rates for students from underrepresented minority groups.
The BSU recommended increasing financial aid commitments to at least match peer institutions, reaffirming MIT's commitment to keeping MIT education accessible through need-blind admission and a generous need-based financial system.
Over the last two years, MIT has increased financial aid expenditures by $23.4 million, from $97.3 million in FY16 to $120.7 million projected for FY18. The Institute has also reduced student self-help levels from $5,500 to $3,400 a year.
MIT continues to be unique in allowing low-income students to use Pell Grants to reduce or eliminate their self-help and summer savings expectations, and it guarantees that any family earning $90,000 or less will have scholarships that at least cover tuition. This guarantee serves more than one-third of MIT's students.
Recruitment and retention
Both student groups have made recommendations around increasing diversity among graduate students and faculty, which involve a longer timeline. The BGSA, for example, recommended developing and implementing a 10-year plan to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students, in particular black graduate students.
"One thing that stands out to me is that to really increase the number of faculty members of color, we have to increase the number of graduate students of color. In the 2016-17 academic year, for example, only about 1 percent of MIT's graduate students were black. We'd like to see a very concerted, coordinated effort to recruit graduate students of color," says Candace Ross, a member and former president of the BGSA.
Thus far, every academic department has posted an online statement affirming its commitment to students' health, diversity, and inclusion. Jackson and others have considered appointing diversity representatives who would implement such a 10-year plan, but MIT departments range widely in terms of size, organization, and recruitment and retention practices, so no uniform structure for all departments has been identified yet. A review of personnel in each department, to assess what may be feasible, is being considered, according to Jackson.
The BSU is keen to see how the departmental statements are put into practice, says Ballard: "Holistically, the goal would be seeing more students and faculty from underrepresented groups in those departments, and seeing [inclusionary practices extend even further], for example when professors are talking about people who have contributed to the field. It's important for everyone to see that there's a diverse range of voices that are in the STEM and humanities fields."
"This is something that going forward we want to keep in mind, that diversity and inclusion doesn't just stop at who you see. It's what you're talking about, the conversations you're having," she adds.
OGE has addressed the BGSA recommendations on multiple fronts. Staff have implemented a Graduate Diversity Ambassador program, increasing MIT's presence at recruitment conferences across the country and providing personalized advice on MIT graduate applications to alumni of the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP General) and CONVERGE.
With input from the Office of the General Counsel, OGE implemented an expanded fee waiver policy during the 2016 application cycle to remove potential financial barriers for applicants who may not have considered MIT.
OGE is also renewing its commitment to the University Center for Exemplary Mentoring, which provides professional development activities to prepare doctoral students from underrepresented minorities for careers in academia. The OGE's "Ignite Your Vision," a monthly discussion series facilitated primarily by MIT faculty and alumni of color, touches upon general professional-development topics and provides an opportunity for graduate students to learn from the experiences of representatives from diverse career paths in industry, education, health care, and government.
Most recently, OGE filled two diversity staff positions focused on maintaining MIT's diversity recruitment efforts and providing bandwidth for the office to revamp its involvement in professional development. OGE plans to continue its collaboration with several academic departments and administrative offices at MIT, including Global Education and Career Development, to devise a targeted approach to addressing the BGSA's recommendation that the Institute provide tailored resources to help graduate students from underrepresented minority groups compete successfully on academic and professional job markets.
A sustained effort
Members of the MIT community who have been engaged in furthering diversity and inclusion at the Institute agree that this work will need to continue for years to come.
"The students have not given up on these recommendations; they are not going to let them disappear," Crayton says. "We have to continue to be thoughtful about them. If there are things we cannot do, or cannot do right away, we have to be very transparent about sharing that information. That's what will build stronger relationships."
Work on inclusion is inherently a constant process, Jackson says.
"When I look at these recommendations, what I see the students are looking for is an equitable opportunity for everyone to be free and unfettered to do their best at MIT and make a contribution to the community," she says. "Inclusion does not first demand that you be like somebody else. It says whoever you are, bring the best of you into the community and let's together help to make MIT a better place if MIT is going to help make a better world."
Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:00 PM PST
The Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) is looking forward to welcoming planetary scientist Ian Wong, one of the 51 Pegasi b Postdoctoral Fellows for 2018 announced this week by the Heising-Simons Foundation.
Named for the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a Sun-like star, the new 51 Pegasi b Fellowships are intended to give exceptional postdoctoral scientists the opportunity to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental research in planetary astronomy.
Wong will be hosted at MIT by the Binzel Group in EAPS. Led by Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow and Professor of Planetary Sciences Richard P. Binzel, who is one of the world's leading scientists in the study of asteroids and Pluto, the group's research focuses on theory, computation, and data analysis of planetary bodies throughout the solar system.
Wong's work seeks to decipher the history of our solar system by studying its most primitive bodies.
A visit to the Palomar Observatory as a first-year graduate student cemented Wong's commitment to observation and hands-on data collection. His observational research focuses on small, icy asteroids in the middle and outer regions of our solar system. Astronomers consider these primitive bodies to be the building blocks of planets, providing a window into the earliest stages of our solar system — and perhaps even into the origins of life on Earth.
By studying the physical and chemical properties of these objects, Wong is working to infer details about the environment in which they formed, and uncover evidence that may support recent theories suggesting that the entire solar system once rearranged itself through a chaotic, dynamical event. Enhancing knowledge of our own solar system's history in these ways can also help explain the observed diversity among exoplanet systems.
During his fellowship, Wong will investigate Kuiper Belt objects beyond the giant planets, as well as the Trojan and Hilda asteroids near Jupiter. He will compare the composition of these bodies to test theories of solar system formation and evolution. His planned research coincides withe the 2021 launch of Lucy, NASA's first space mission to study Jupiter Trojans.
The Trojans are a population of primitive asteroids that orbit in tandem with Jupiter in two loose groups around the Sun, with one group always ahead of Jupiter in its path, the other always behind. At these two so-called Lagrange points, the bodies are stabilized by a gravitational balancing act between the Sun and Jupiter. Lucy's complex path will take it to both clusters. Over 12 years, with boosts from Earth's gravity, the spacecraft will journey to seven different asteroids in total — six Trojans and one from the Main Belt.
"These exciting worlds are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, and therefore hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system," Binzel says. Scientists hope that Lucy, like the human fossil for which the mission is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins.
"No other space mission in history has been launched to as many different destinations in independent orbits around our Sun. Lucy will show us, for the first time, the diversity of the primordial bodies that built the planets, opening up new insights into the origins of our Earth and ourselves," Binzel says.
Wong explains that NASA's Lucy mission "is a really big boon for my particular sub-field. On a fundamental level, it shows the importance of these not commonly studied objects. Throughout my fellowship, I hope to contribute important groundwork for interpreting the results of this probe."
The big scientific question Wong will be chasing over the next three years is whether these asteroid populations are related to each other. While the traditional model of solar system evolution holds that these objects formed where they are, new insights have led scientists to theorize that an episode of dynamical instability completely rearranged the solar system.
"If that is the case, then all of the middle and outer solar system minor bodies should have formed within a single primordial population of asteroids beyond the ice giants, before being scattered into their current locations by the dynamical instability," Wong says. "Exploring this is crucial to explaining details of solar system architecture that are left unanswered by the traditional model."
Wong graduates from the California Institute of Technology in February 2018 with a PhD in planetary science. He holds a BA in linguistics from Princeton University.
The seven other 2018 51 Pegasi b Fellows and their host institutions are: Marta Bryan, University of California at Berkeley; Sivan Ginzburg, University of California at Berkeley; Thaddeus Komacek, University of Chicago; Aaron Rizzuto, University of Texas at Austin; Christopher Spalding, Yale University; Jason Wang, California Institute of Technology; and Ya-Lin Wu, University of Texas at Austin.
Each award provides up to $375,000 of support for independent research over three years, the time and freedom to establish distinction and leadership in the field, mentorship by an established faculty member at the host institution, and participation in an annual summit to develop professional networks, to exchange ideas, and to foster collaboration.
EAPS department head Robert van der Hilst says he is delighted that the Heising-Simons Foundation chose MIT as one of the five institutions to host the fellowship: "We are excited to welcome Ian to MIT. We are sure that his research will have an impact on our understanding of our solar system, and are honored and proud for EAPS to have been invited to host a Heising-Simons Foundation 51 Pegasi b Postdoctoral Fellow again this year."
The Heising-Simons Foundation is a family foundation based in Los Altos, California. The foundation works with its many partners to advance sustainable solutions in climate and clean energy, enable groundbreaking research in science, enhance the education of our youngest learners, and support human rights for all people. More information about the foundation is available at www.heisingsimons.org. To learn more about the fellowship, and its four inaugural fellows, please visit www.51pegasib.org.
Posted: 07 Feb 2018 06:15 AM PST
Instead of flipping the classroom — viewing lectures in advance and using class time to solve problems — Carl Wieman '73 flipped the audience at the second annual MIT Festival of Learning. To reach students, the kickoff speaker said he retooled his standard faculty talk about new approaches to teaching.
After all, they "often have more expertise on learning than most faculty do," he said.
Wieman, a Nobel Prize-winning Stanford physicist, urged the hundreds of students in the audience to take control of their own education at the Jan. 29 event. In other words, he added, "hold faculty and administrators more accountable" when teaching is not up to snuff.
Wieman knows of what he speaks. When he realized the students in one of his atomic physics classes were not mastering fundamental concepts, he investigated ways to improve his teaching — a journey he describes further in his book, "Improving How Universities Teach Science." Decades of research in cognitive and learning sciences, he discovered, revealed that having students take notes based upon lectures (what Wieman calls "filling the brain") is one of the least effective ways to learn. So, he abandoned traditional classroom lecturing.
Instead, active learning, or group and problem-based teaching with a focus on timely feedback, works better. He has seen the positive results in his own classes, as well as via longitudinal studies he has co-authored. Wieman feels that the goal should be to teach students "how to be experts" by helping them understand what tools, resources, and knowledge to use when tackling real problems. After all, that's what experts like him, and other faculty and researchers, do in their labs.
Asking students to solve typical exam problems without calculators, notes, or instruments, "as if they were shipwrecked on an island," is both artificial and arbitrary. Moreover, Wieman added, "real knowledge does not come with chapter numbers," so teaching to the test does not provide students with ways to cope with novel situations.
Like learning, teaching requires expertise. Too often, he said, faculty are not given the time, opportunity, or right incentives to develop their teaching skills. This leads to learning environments akin to medicine in the mid-19th century, when "anyone who simply did things to people" could be considered a doctor. Switching his tone at the end of this talk and eyeing the administrators in the room, Wieman said that universities need to move away from the "pedagogical equivalent of bloodletting" and take steps to put effective and evidence-based teaching front and center.
After his lecture (or "sermon," as he called it), Wieman's message was amplified by a series of lightning-round talks by MIT faculty who have embraced innovative teaching. Anette "Peko" Hosoi, associate dean of engineering and the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, provided an update on the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) pilot initiative, centered around interdisciplinary projects to prepare students for the practice of engineering, specifically in emerging areas such as autonomy and living machines. Each speaker talked about the dual benefit of such experiments: enhancing the student experience as well as reinvigorating their own on-campus teaching in different ways by making their students' learning much more active.
Inspired by the goody bags his 6-year-old daughter receives at friends' birthday parties, Jeffery Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems, created hands-on experimental kits for 3.001 (Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering). Filled with simple components, common agents like vinegar, and instructions, students were given an opportunity to explore even the most theoretical topics in tangible ways, from the makeup of metals to chemical structures. "I was thrilled when I saw a group of students dousing various metals in the Infinite Corridor with vinegar," Grossman said. (For those who are curious, example bags are on display in the Infinite Corridor).
Three faculty, Shigeru Miyagawa, Thomas Kochan, and Barton Zwiebach, all zeroed in on ways they have used technology to go beyond the walls of the classroom. Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics and the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture, incorporates digital images from dozens of museums and collections and draws upon worldwide experts in Visualizing Japan, a flipped-format online and residential experience.
For an assignment to develop a new employment bill of rights that reflects the changing economy, Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, uses social platforms to virtually mix MBA students with workers in the field, adding an eye-opening real-life dimension to their training. Finally, Zwiebach, a professor of physics, has retooled a sequence of courses in quantum physics (8.04, 8.05, and 8.06) via MITx to allow students more flexibility about how and when to take them.
Vice Chancellor Ian A. Waitz, who oversees undergraduate and graduate education at MIT, wrapped up the round. He spoke about an effort to improve the first year experience for undergraduates through a design class where the topic students will tackle is the first year itself. At the end of the course, they will present rigorous, evidence-based recommendations to MIT's senior leadership. Waitz is pleased about students' eagerness to take on the challenge, adding, "We were hoping for at least 20 students, booked a classroom for 55, and are now anticipating around 100."
The rest of the festival, which was sponsored by the Office of Digital Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor, was less formal. Participants had a chance to mill around Lobby 10 and Lobby 13 to view 29 exhibits about current efforts, including digital teaching tools, a lightboard to capture video lectures, and even comic books for graduate researchers.
Susan Silbey, chair of the faculty and the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, professor of sociology and anthropology, and professor of behavioral and policy sciences at the Sloan School of Management, found the festival "just marvelous." She said she senses that a "revolution" is taking hold at MIT. "It seems that everyone is stepping up, and this is just a snapshot of what's happening across campus," she said.
Woodie Flowers, the Pappalardo Professsor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, closed the daylong event with a playful talk titled "Nerd Epistemology," noting that faculty have actually been stepping up for decades. The creator of 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing) — often considered the first design class at MIT and the inspiration for another iconic class, 2.009 (Product Engineering Processes) — punctuated his remarks, in true MIT fashion, with examples and data. Among them were a video clip featuring Megan Smith '86 and SM '88, the former chief technology officer of the United States, describing how 2.007 inspired her to pursue engineering.
Another example he cited, which extends well beyond MIT, is the FIRST robotics competition for elementary and high school students. Founded by Flowers and Dean Kamen in 1989, the competition draws on the magic of 2.007 and 2.009 and shows how it can be scaled; the FIRST competition now engages over 500,000 elementary and high school students each year.
A true trailblazer, Flowers wrote about flipped learning with multimedia back in the 1980s. He shared that he hoped that by now traditional teaching would be a thing of the past and active, hands-on learning would be standard. Nonetheless, he sees that continued advances in areas such as artificial intelligence will move the needle forward.
Above all, Flowers said, meeting Wieman's litmus test requires not only technology or techniques, but an attitude shift. An advocate of "gracious professionalism," Flowers stressed that respecting the planet and other people needs to ground all teaching and learning.
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