On November 4th, 2016, we had the amazing opportunity to attend the Transforming Undergraduate STEM Education Conference in Boston. At this conference many professors and administrators from around the country came together to present the research they have done on the subject of diversity in STEM. This information ranged from understanding the current environment at their institutions, what resources are available, what programs have been implemented and how they are working and so on. This three-day event consisted of poster sessions and workshops where individuals were able to have conversations with the attendees in the hopes of networking and continuing these conversations back in their institutions. Even though we weren’t able to present the work that we have done over the course of the year, we were able to attend on the second day which was when the majority of the poster session occurred.
To make the most of our limited time at the conference, we reached out to several presenters in advance to arrange opportunities to meet with them. We had two goals in mind. First, we wanted to see what work is already being done at other campuses that can contribute to our own Being Human in STEM initiative. We wanted to do this because the work that we are doing is a relatively new subject which consequently means that not that much research and information is available to us. This also means that new information is coming out every day. Our second goal was to expand out network in the hopes of receiving feedback on the work we began doing this semester and hope to continue in Spring 2017.
The conference itself was very interesting. It was refreshing to see that there are so many individuals that are striving to improve the condition of STEM in higher education and trying to understand the implications of having a more diverse demographic. There was a lot of different information that was valuable, especially those that broke down why it is vital to have these conversations on campus. However, there are certain things that can potentially make the conference more successful in my opinion.
My main criticism of the conference was the lack of student involvement in the conversations that were being held. Emma and I were only two of a small handful of students amongst the throng of hundreds of well-meaning faculty and administrators. More than a few times, Emma and I were bombarded with questions asking for our opinions, which deterred from my own experience because the focus was redirected to us instead of the work being presented. I don’t believe their curiosity and questioning were bad, I just feel that had there been more students the feedback would have happened more organically. Additionally, I am a strong believer of the importance of including student voice in this research. I am grateful to the leaders of Being Human in STEM for basing this course on the student perspective from the very beginning. In my opinion this is what has allowed our own work to be successful because there is a direct connection to the audiences we want to reach. This is why I felt a bit uncomfortable at some of the presentations because, though stemming from good intentions, those presenting their work were speaking for students without really knowing how students would react. A lot of solutions were hypothetical next steps that were based on numbers rather than experience. A solution for this is to open up the conference for students to attend. That way the student voice, which is the most important in my honest opinion, will be more present and integrated into the conversations.
Overall, a very insightful and inspiring conference. As a student I want to see it be successful because the work that is being done is extremely important. I have learned so much while attending and was able to speak to incredible scholars that provided great insight to our own work. Hopefully moving forward, we can all grow and continue to strive for a more inclusive STEM world.