Wendy Roldan shares experience at 2018 Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase

Sunday, September 2, 2018

By Wendy Roldan, HCDE PhD student 

Wendy RoldanI attended the National GEM Consortium (GEM) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase in January 2018 with two goals: connecting with others & learning strategies for graduate school. By attending this showcase, I hoped to connect with other graduate students who had similar backgrounds as me in the sense of normalizing experience of graduate school for minority engineers. I also wanted to learn strategies around being a successful graduate student from both leading faculty and senior graduate students. Both of my goals were met as I connected with graduate students all over the U.S. during lunch, dinner, and happy hour events, and I learned about others’ (graduate students, professors, PhD graduates who decided to go to industry, postdocs) successes and troubles throughout their graduate career.

One tangible outcome that came from this experience was a Slack channel called Engineering Educators where we do a weekly writing hour on Mondays and share with each other our target goals for the writing hour and what we accomplished during that time. I met a graduate student who does her research in the mechanical engineering department at University of Nevada. She invited me to connect with other graduate students who are in engineering education and over dinner we shared stories about navigating advisor relationships and the role of publishing in our academic journey. I am looking forward to maintaining our relationship and being connected with graduate students across the U.S. who are working on engineering education research are via Slack has helped me feel less isolated in my work!

Another outcome from this experience was the opportunity to present my research on understanding equity in makerspace research which has been supported by HCDE and CELT. This conference gave me the opportunity to formalize the work I had done so far after a quarter and a couple weeks into my PhD program in HCDE. I came into the PhD program knowing that I wanted to do research on understanding makerspaces through an equitable lens and I had the opportunity to do a semi-structured literature review in HCDE 543. I created a physical space, using post-it notes, where makerspaces research was being published, what the key takeaways were, and how published work was talking about equity within their makerspace contributions.

The opportunity to present my work at the GEM-ASEE research showcase was a significant learning experience because I had never created a poster before. Using Jennifer Turn’s advice, I took it as a design challenge to design my poster based on what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted to talk to people and get their insights and feedback. I designed my poster in a way that allowed for me to give them something and for them to give me something. It was a success! I talked to researchers who came up to my poster because they were intrigued by the post-its and identified with that method to help make sense of information. I talked to researchers who were interested in my “hair tie” story based on the provocative question I posed: Hair ties for makerspace equity? I talked to a professor at Yale who does makerspace research who gave me his business card and invited me to visit their makerspace anytime. I talked to students who did not know what makerspaces meant and wanted to ask me how I was using the word in my research. I say my first poster session was a success because I wanted to talk to people by participating in this showcase and that was what I got. I connected with others, I learned how I could display my information and research in a way that was visually engaging, and I designed a poster that invited others to contribute to it using sharpie markers. The poster is now hanging in the CELT space on the first floor of Sieg!

Building off of the insights I learned from my first poster, I created another one to present at the HCDE research showcase. I will be attending another similar type of event in San Francisco in a month and I will be combing what I learned from both of these poster sessions to improve how I communicate my research and get insights from others. How we conceptualize equity is makerspace research is important and I will continue to communicate this message in my research. Having the opportunity to spread my research insights beyond publications and the DUB community is unique and I appreciate HCDE supporting me in this endeavor.

In addition to talking about my research and learning from others’ research, the showcase held workshops during the afternoon where leaders in the field of engineering education presented on topics of time management, the importance of teaching well as a teaching assistant, developing a research lab, and resources available as minority students in graduate school. One of the workshops stood out because the professor leading it touched on how as minority students sometimes we are expected to always put in service hours to give back through mentorship or participation in groups like NSBE, SWE, or mentoring undergrads. This extent of this expectation may not be the same for other graduate students and the professor talked about learning how to say no. Providing mentorship to others is important to me because of everyone who put time into mentoring me, but the workshop highlighted how as graduate students we had responsibilities and other time commitments like peer reviewing papers and publishing that were equally important for our academic career. It gave me much to think about regarding the prioritization and value of certain time commitments over others in academia.

The showcase featured many opportunities for formal networking through the lunch and dinners but it also featured many informal opportunities to learn from others. I felt proud to represent the University of Washington and Human Centered Design & Engineering at the GEM-ASEE showcase, which prioritized the importance of the experiences of minority engineering graduate students and researchers. I am thankful for the support to attend and I bring back lessons that I will continue to use in my graduate career. I hope to attend the showcase in the future and this time iterate on how we engage others with our research to improve the potential of poster sessions. Thank you for your support!