Published: March 30, 2021 By
Aerospace building

At the end of last summer, the Ann & H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences received a letter from graduate students urging faculty and staff to recognize and counteract the role racism has played in the aerospace field and in academia. Their pleas followed the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, and countless other known and unknown violent deaths in Black communities.

We want to acknowledge that, while we have been slow to respond, we have heard our students’ pleas and would like to articulate the priorities that will help us effect positive change. We are grateful to our students for their courage and leadership in asking us all to do better and to be better, and we take these initial steps with the hope that they will become part of an ongoing conversation among students, faculty and staff.

To be clear: we condemn racism and other forms of oppression (i.e. sexism, homophobia, transphobia) and seek to build an anti-racist department that is a leader in tackling ingrained racial and other disparities in academia and the aerospace industry.

The Ann & H.J Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences continuously acts to build a diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just culture within the department.

We are committed to a vision for building a department climate characterized by a deep sense of belonging based on a strong commitment to respect and care for all members of the CU Boulder community, especially for those who come from communities that are underrepresented and marginalized at CU Boulder; hiring, leveraging and retaining all of the diversity of faculty, staff, and students who reflect the global society our students will lead; and ensuring a curriculum that fosters intercultural competence and prepares critical thinkers who innovate through embracing multiple perspectives.

Our graduate students asked us for a series of actions to begin rectifying the inequity in our institutions. Our efforts to create an anti-racist department are occurring in the context of a broader move toward inclusive excellence by contributing to the campus-wide efforts of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Excellence in Academics (IDEA) Plan. In response to this call to action, the Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department commits to prioritizing to the following:

  • The creation of an Inclusive Culture Committee (ICC) comprising faculty, staff, and students: The ICC was formed and officially recognized as a department committee in November 2020 to continuously activate the department’s vision for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. ICC will manage the remaining tasks described below and provide an annual public report on the department’s efforts toward inclusive excellence.
  • AES Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) pledge: Smead Aerospace is taking a two-pronged approach to the request that we develop a JEDI pledge that publicly states our values and holds all members of our community accountable for discriminatory behavior. We are preparing our own pledge to be included in all course syllabi and published on the department web site. The pledge will affirm the department’s support for an anti-racist institution and draw from the Honor Code and existing Student Code of Conduct. We are also working with campus leaders pursuing updates to the Honor Code and the formulation of a CU Anti-Racist Creed. The department will develop a JEDI pledge and present it to faculty for approval. If approved, the department will incorporate the pledge into its bylaws.
  • Provide training for instructors in our department on inclusive pedagogy: We are leveraging content from the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).  There are pre-existing workshops with a focus on inclusive pedagogy, and there is also the opportunity to receive department-specific support from a CTL representative.  We have scheduled a meeting with Becca Ciancanelli, the inclusive pedagogy lead in the CTL, to talk about our department’s specific instructional needs. 
  • Deliver JEDI-related lessons to students within the department, integrated into course content: Toward this goal, department faculty are working to develop lessons on macroethics, the relationship between engineering and society, and other JEDI-related topics. These lessons will be first implemented during the current semester, and the experience will be used to inform future lesson planning and to help in developing best practices.  We are also leveraging the vast resource base from the CTL and seeking guidance from, the BOLD Center, which is led by Tanya Ennis, and Amy Moreno, who is the Director of Inclusive Culture for the College of Engineering and Applied Science. 
  • JEDI-related material on the department web site: The department will create a section within its website to publish JEDI-related material. We will work with college and campus offices that collect demographic data regarding our community and will provide easy access to this data via our website. Further, we will publish and maintain a centralized list of resources for students, including but not limited to housing support, mentorship opportunities, scholarships, internships, and more detailed instructions for applying to our graduate program. The department has already begun discussing changes to the site with the college communications office and will begin publishing changes by June 2021.
  • Faculty-student advising: We will continue to refine our faculty advising program. While all undergraduate and MS graduate students are assigned faculty advisors (in addition to their undergraduate academic advisor or graduate program advisor), not all faculty advisors hold the most effective meetings with their advisees. We will implement new plans for faculty-student interactions in Fall 2021.
  • Teaching practicum and service practicum: The department’s Graduate Committee is reviewing the teaching practicum requirement for the PhD degree and is considering the creation of a new service practicum as an additional option to the teaching practicum. Changes to these requirements would be put in place by December 2021 and apply to graduate students starting in Fall 2022.
  • Student showcases: We are creating more opportunities to partner with students to showcase their work, with emphasis on students from communities that have been historically underrepresented in the aerospace industry. These opportunities may include features on the department website, highlights in the department newsletter and quarterly communications, and developing new methods for displaying work publicly in the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building.
  • Integrate with The BOLD Center: The BOLD Center is part of the College of Engineering and Applied Science’s commitment to creating a diverse environment where all engineering students are welcome, and where students who are traditionally underrepresented in engineering—women, people of color, and other underrepresented communities—are empowered to achieve their dreams. The Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building has space set aside for use by the BOLD Center, and so far, it has only been used by BOLD student tutors. Our goal is that, once the pandemic is over, this space will be a true satellite of the BOLD Center, serving not only the Smead Aerospace community, but also the rest of East Campus. We will work with the BOLD Center to integrate the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building with their programs that take place in the Engineering Center, and to create new programs that take advantage of the space in the aerospace building.
  • Engage students who want to contribute to JEDI: The goal of this task is to provide formal avenues of participation for students interested in contributing to the JEDI conversation. The first step in this is to formalize the process of selecting students to be on the Inclusive Culture Committee (ICC). The creation of the ICC included recommendations for membership of at least three students with at least one student from the Aerospace Student Committee for Undergraduate Success (ASC-US), at least one student from the Aerospace Graduate Student Organization (AGSO), and at least one student from an affinity/identity-based CEAS student organization selected in collaboration with the BOLD Center. For each group, the student members of the ICC will be selected without the department’s oversight. For graduate student involvement, this process will be run by AGSO. The position on the ICC will be advertised to all graduate students within the department, and any student interested in being the representative for the graduate students on this committee will be asked to complete an application for the position. This application is being developed by the current representative on the committee and board members of AGSO. Additionally, the graduate student body will create its own subcommittee that branches from the ICC and is led by the selected representative on the ICC. This will help the ICC representative communicate progress to the graduate students and bring feedback from a broader group of graduate students to the ICC. 
  • Faculty mentoring plan: In order to support the goal of hiring and retaining diverse faculty, the department is updating its faculty mentoring plan. This plan lays out policies for creating mentoring committees for all new faculty hires, articulates the expectations of the faculty mentors, and provides guidelines and resources for inclusive mentoring. This plan will be in place by May 2021.
  • New measures of teaching evaluation: Research on higher education indicates that traditional teaching evaluations tend to have a systematic and measurable bias against women and Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) instructors. In order to correct this situation, we have formed an ad-hoc Teaching Quality Framework (TQF) Committee that is engaged with the campus TQF Initiative to provide a richer evaluation of teaching to enhance the value of high-quality teaching and reward scholarly approaches to improving student learning. This committee is developing a classroom observation rubric that can formally document the process, increase the formative-assessment value, and be included in the annual teaching-evaluation process across all teaching faculty ranks. The TQF reduces reliance on student questionnaires, which can contain bias toward women underrepresented instructors of color. The new teaching rubric will be in place by August 2021.

We will follow up this semester with an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to have an open dialog regarding these actions and to gather more feedback on where to go next. By committing to these actions, we continue the ongoing process within the Smead Aerospace community to work together toward an inclusive and equitable department.

For questions or to share additional suggestions please contact Department Chair Brian Argrow or Professor Eric Frew, Chair of the Smead Aerospace Inclusive Culture Committee.