The College of Engineering Uses SED Process for DEI Strategic Plan

Setting the Stage for Success

In March of 2015, the then University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel charged each school, college, and unit to develop a five year strategic plan for achieving the University’s vision for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). More specifically, Schlissel expected that these plans should be “(1) highly aspirational and consistent with the leading role U-M has played in matters of diversity throughout its history; (2) concrete and supported by a series of specific measurable goals; and (3) consistent with the wide variety of research, educational, and public engagement activities that occur throughout the University.” From this charge, the University of Michigan College of Engineering’s (CoE) Five-Year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan was born in 2016 to begin in 2017. 

Story by Lawryn Fraley

The first five years of the CoE’s DEI Strategic Plan proved to be productive and reports of each year’s objectives, measures, and actions can be reviewed here. Most notable, was the developments following the Summer of 2020 that “sharply exposed the disparities in our society, and the continued systemic racism and bias in our country that have long led to violence against our Black citizens and a lack of equal opportunity” according to the Center for Engineering Diversity & Outreach (CEDO). With this realization, Dean Alec D. Gallimore and CEDO launched two additional initiatives taking CoE beyond the five-year strategic plan and into the future of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. These initiatives – one to include sustained, pervasive education around issues of race, ethnicity, unconscious bias for everyone in engineering and one to evolve the role of CEDO to work horizontally across all our pillars and units – were announced in a letter to the community from Alec D. Gallimore in October 2020. 

With the end of the now seven-year long DEI Strategic Plan, a member of the DEI Implementation Committee, Heidi Sherick, who serves the CoE as the Director of Leadership Development, felt strongly that is was their duty to document and share this intentional process for working towards justice at an institutional level. When the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) sent a call out for paper submissions, Heidi knew it was her opportunity to publish and contribute a record of this project to the betterment of other institutions. 

When creating a team to help compile the paper, naturally Tershia Pinder-Grover’s experience as the co-chair for the Faculty Community Team and member of the DEI Implementation Team, complimented Heidi’s experiences as the chair of the Staff Community Team. As the Director of Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering (CRLT-Engin), a partnership between the main CRLT and the College, which focuses on promoting excellence and innovation in engineering education.Tershia is also well adept at translating new and difficult topics into accessible materials for broader audiences. With additional input and assistance from Debby Covington the Director of Partnerships, Outreach and Retention for CoE’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA), Sara Pozzi, Director for DEI for CoE, and Pauline Bary Khan the Director of Lecturer Development for CoE’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the team was complete. 

The Socially Engaged Design Process Model as a Framework

When brainstorming how the team of writers were going to frame the experiences of the five community subcommittees borne out of the DEI Strategic Plan, it was crucial that the framework went beyond the problem-solving narrative to include the constant reflection that occurred. Heidi and Tershia found that C-SED’s Socially Engaged Design Process (SEDP) model was a great fit, “It was more than just problem solving – it was reflection, awareness, and active listening. When we got to the point where we were asking ourselves ‘Who do we want on these committees? Who needs to be heard? Who are we missing?’ we started to see where our process was naturally aligning with the SEDP model.” The SEDP model is an iterative, five-stage design process that includes social, cultural, and other contexts through an equity-centered lens. 

More specifically, the ‘ah ha’ moments experienced by individuals with privileged identities correlated with many of the SEDP’s undercurrents. Undercurrents represent the things that engineers and designers are doing throughout the process, no matter the stage they are in. Namely, the subcommittee’s duty to regularly reflect and analyze power, privilege, identity, and motivations. 

The marriage of the SEDP model and the DEI Strategic Plan gave way to the paper titled “People-First Engineering: A College-wide effort to shift the culture by using the socially engaged design process” that was included in the ASEE’s annual conference in June of 2022 in Minneapolis, MN. The paper walks through their experiences and findings organized into the SEDP’s five stages (explore, define, ideate, develop, and realize). After reflecting on their work via the SEDP model, the team of writers were able to articulate some of their lessons learned, for example “the importance of common language, having the upper administration go first (modeling the way), and creating allies (the use of peers)” (ASEE Paper, 2022). Overall, the team learned that the process of how institutions work towards cultural change itself cannot be underestimated – intention and reflection at every level is imperative. 

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Traditionally, the Socially Engaged Design Process model is a tool referenced at all stages of a project, but Heidi and Tershia took a unique approach by using the model as a retroactive guide to organize their reflections and findings after the fact. They found that they appreciated the iterative nature and flexibility of the model especially while operating within the rigid, process-oriented discipline of Engineering, “the forgiveness and grace throughout the process was refreshing. It allowed us to continue in our reflection even when occasionally stuck in uncomfortable gray areas without distracting from the process itself.” In addition to the undercurrents, the decision points within the model allowed the team to give language to their new way of thinking. Decision points are intentional pauses in between each stage of the design process that encourage reflection. Overall, the technical-social dualism of the SEDP model gave way to more creativity which was just what they needed to incorporate the CoE’s values of creativity, innovation, and daring into the mix. With a mission that “seek[s] to improve the quality of life by developing intellectually curious and socially conscious minds, creating collaborative solutions to societal problems, and promoting an inclusive and innovative community of service for the common good”, it is no surprise that the SEDP model found a home within Michigan Engineering

Nowadays, the five Community Subcommittees have been put on hold for a year to give time and space for further implementation and data collection. Faculty and staff alike are bringing these intentional practices and findings into other units across campus. Although Heidi and Tershia are early-adopters coupling SEDP model and DEI initiatives, they believe there is momentum to continue this practice – it is just simply a matter of telling stories like this one and raising awareness. 

Whether you are a faculty member interested in introducing the Socially Engaged Design Process model into your classroom and research or simply a student looking to round out your design experience, the Center for Socially Engaged Design has involvement opportunities for you! Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop with our offerings, programs, and other design opportunities. Read the full paper here.


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