Staff Spotlight: Sara Hoffman

How/why did you become involved with C-SED?

I originally became involved at C-SED as a writer for the Socially Engaged Design Academy (SEDA) learning blocks while I was also teaching as a Lecturer for LSA. Part of my work on SEDA was developing new content around identity, power, and privilege in design. That project included creating case studies, and it was a step toward my current role.

Describe your role:

I lead the development of C-SED’s DEI case studies and related workshops and modules. The starting point for that process is partnering with faculty to identify case topics and learning outcomes that align with the technical focus of their courses. From there, I oversee the research and writing process as new materials are being designed. I also support the C-SED grad facilitators in preparing to lead workshops based on the courses in undergrad classes.

What drew you to this role?

This role brings together my past experience in teaching and research in a really interesting way. I’m excited to be part of the DEI culture shift in the College of Engineering, and I love getting to do deep dives into so many new topics as we develop new cases

What have you learned in your role?

As we have partnered with College of Engineering instructors, it’s been very cool to learn more about how they approach inclusive teaching and help students explore social aspects of engineering. There is a lot of interesting work being done already, and it’s exciting to be able to support and expand that work through the case study project.

Any advice for those considering your role or a similar one?

I think one of the most important aspects of being involved with projects related to DEI and social justice topics is staying open to reconsidering your perspective and continually learning new things.

Any unexpected parts of the job that surprised you?

The DEI case study project started as a small grant team exploring new approaches to teaching DEI topics in engineering. Over the past three years, the project (and my role) has continued evolving. I think part of building something new is actually to expect the unexpected.

What is one project you really enjoyed working on?

Last semester, I partnered with Prof. James Holly, Jr. to develop case studies on Black engineers from the 19th century for his course “Mechanical Engineering & Racial Justice.” That project was a fun opportunity to dig into historical sources and think about how to make complex historical topics accessible for engineering students.

What do you like most about working at C-SED? 

The collaborative environment is my favorite aspect of C-SED. Any time I am working on a project, I know I will be able to reach out and get constructive feedback and creative suggestions, and I find those conversations really energizing.

How has your career path developed over time?

I actually originally wanted to be an archaeologist, and my PhD is in history. In many ways, I think the case studies are a creative way of doing history, as we help students reflect critically on examples of how engineering work has been done and some of the impacts it has had on people and the environment. I also taught undergrads for many years and loved it, and I enjoy that my current role at C-SED builds on that experience as we design content for many different types of classes.

Any design tools recommendations?

I draw on the Cycle of Exclusion by Kat Holmes often. It’s a helpful framework for thinking through equity issues across all stages of the design of a particular technology or service.

Name a social justice topic you are passionate about and why.

One topic that I am personally passionate about is equity in education. I was a first-generation college student, and that has definitely informed the way I think about educational access and inclusive teaching.

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