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Week of February 18, 2013

Proposals sought for seventh annual STEP workshop to promote excellent practices

Robin Queen says she and her Department of Linguistics team sought training last spring through the Strategies Toward Excellent Practices (STEP) in Departments workshop to boost intradisciplinarity and collaboration within the department.

Today, monthly departmentwide journal club sessions use intradisciplinary research as a springboard for ideas and collaboration. The new approach has inspired a sociolinguist and a syntactician to collaborate on a graduate seminar and grant project.

Queen says the STEP workshop offered great information on how to boost interaction among faculty who have varied approaches. “You do it by brainstorming about what issues and challenges are in play, what resources you have, and using that information to find out what the barriers to fruitful interaction are,” says Queen, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of linguistics, German and English, LSA.

The ADVANCE Program STEP workshops train teams of faculty to make positive changes in their academic units. March 8 is the application deadline for proposals by teams from various schools and departments. The free workshop runs from noon May 7 through 2 p.m. May 9 in the Gerald R. Ford Library on North Campus. A limited number of teams are accepted.

The intensive three-day workshop draws on academic theory and data to examine obstacles to change and strategies to overcome them. Participating groups of two to four members identify a positive change goal and develop a plan of action that can be implemented within a calendar year.

Jennifer Linderman, ADVANCE acting director, says recent projects have included student and faculty mentoring, reducing student attrition, departmental climate, and departmental procedures around faculty searches, annual reviews or course assignments.

“It is important to realize that having a good idea might not be enough on its own. The team learns from experts about organizational change and how to make changes that will not only work but also last,” she says.

Linderman, a professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering, College of Engineering, also is a STEP workshop graduate. “I found the program really eye-opening in terms of how to think about accomplishing change, especially in reaching others that are important to bring on board,” she says.

STEP teams learn that resistance to change they propose is natural and necessary. Resistance can be useful for achieving real collaboration and for developing a solution that is more robust and comprehensive than originally envisioned, Linderman says. Teams learn how to understand and interpret resistance, and use communication strategies to reduce it. Presentations by the CRLT Players help make issues clear and spark discussion.

“Participants find that the skills and ways of thinking that they learn help them not only to accomplish their immediate goals but also to be more effective in future projects. They also appreciate the opportunity to step back and strategize with their teammates before implementing a change process,” Linderman says.

Allison Aiello, associate professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health, praises the STEP workshop for helping her project team begin an effective graduate program curriculum review. The team undertook qualitative and quantitative studies of the curriculum, and reviewed syllabuses and student focus group results, among other actions.

“We wanted to make the curriculum more responsive to the needs of the students and the job market. They helped us organize our fact-finding mission, which was so helpful. Now that we have organized information, it’s much easier to develop proposals to enhance the curriculum,” she says.

ADVANCE works to improve the campus environment in the areas of faculty recruitment, retention, climate and leadership.


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