2018 Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Program Reflection Blogs

The goals of the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows Program are to cultivate a network of ambassadors who will advance a culture of inclusive excellence, and to create an environment where people feel safe, comfortable, and empowered to discuss diversity and inclusion at Georgia Tech.

A few of the 2018 Fellows share their insights and experience as participants in the program below.


Making Musical Connections
by Conan Zhao

Nov. 8, 2018—One day, my mother and I were getting off the bus to go home when she asked me what instrument I wanted to learn. I told her I wanted to play guitar or be a drummer, which apparently was the wrong answer.

I’ve been playing piano ever since.

Music has always been a big part of my life. I’d like to think those holdover dreams of being lead guitarist for the Sino-Canadian version of the metal band Avenged Sevenfold fostered a wide appreciation for all kinds of musical styles. In elementary school, I adopted a love for ‘80s and ‘90s Chinese pop songs from my parents. Ironically, I couldn’t understand due to a language barrier, but it didn’t stop me from substituting my own nonsense lyrics in and enthusiastically singing along.

When I started thinking up project ideas, I knew I wanted to do something musically related, whether it was showcasing musicians and artists on campus or seeking out people to share new music with.

At the 2017 Diversity & Inclusion Fellows meeting, there was a project called ‘Accent Stories’ by Yelena Rivera Vale that shared personal stories and reflections of members of the Georgia Tech community who spoke with accents. It got me thinking about all the different accents I listened, to growing up in an immigrant community where unique speaking styles were commonplace. And while I personally don’t have an accent – although some of my younger thoughts ended with a hearty Canadian ‘eh’ – I’ve been told I have a recognizable musical one.

I realized that I wanted to share my musical journey and see how unique my path was. This curiosity motivated my DI project, exploring the diversity of music in my slice of Georgia Tech. This was partly to find other musicians like me (and commiserate about the rock star lifestyles we could have led), but also was an excuse to talk with my colleagues about musicality, art, and our shared pursuit of that art.

I’ve been enthralled by the stories they’ve shared – stories of preserving cultural heritage, of creating new music opportunities for others, and of musical journeys very similar and yet clearly distinct from my own. I’ve found new appreciation for musical genres that I tend to avoid. I personally dislike classical and baroque music (partially because I associate those styles with the music I was forced to practice as a kid), and even brought that up in one of my interviews. But after chatting with a friend who loves early choral works (like, 1500s Renaissance early), I wound up listening to some of her music suggestions and really enjoyed them.

"And for what it’s worth, I did feel like I could be comfortable debating my colleagues on a more controversial issue after establishing that connecting musical thread. Maybe in the future I could add a friendly debate afterwards."

As it turns out, my journey is only somewhat unique, which I guess should be expected. Music was more or less forced upon me, so it took a while before I accepted my art and made it my own. It seemed like my instrumentalist peers had more choice in their musical vocation than I did. Nevertheless, there were still some clearly shared trends. Many of us had Linkin Park or Green Day phases in our teens, or had peer groups in high school that thought playing music was cool.

I feel more connected to the colleagues I chatted with, now having mutually shared a part of our lives that aren’t necessarily shown in a workplace setting. In hindsight, I think that was my goal from the start – finding a way to connect with people, and hoping that such a way could involve music. In my DI Fellows application, I mentioned drawing inspiration from Darryl Davis, who stressed the importance of first establishing a connection before debating divisive issues to avoid mutual antagonism. And for what it’s worth, I did feel like I could be comfortable debating my colleagues on a more controversial issue after establishing that connecting musical thread. Maybe in the future I could add a friendly debate afterwards.

I know that I’ll continue to have these conversations. It is my hope that I can continue sharing them. I hope that you’ll find as much enjoyment in these podcasts as I’ve had making them.



Disability and Inclusion
by Heather Dicks

Nov. 2, 2018—DiversAbility Day took place on a warm October 1 afternoon in the Technology Square Research Building. A summit-style event bringing together students, faculty, and staff, engaged attendees in learning and dialogue focused on inclusion of people with disabilities at Tech. As one o’clock approached, I could not help my nervousness or dismiss the thought that nine months of planning was finally about to go into action.

Last October (2017), when the application for the 2018 Diversity and Inclusion Fellows program was due, I had only been on staff for two months. I did not really have full knowledge of anything on campus, let alone the landscape of diversity and inclusion. It seemed applying to be a part of this program was premature in my short tenure, but I wanted to participate in something outside of Excel in order to meet people and make connections. So I constructed a lofty project idea and applied. The issue area was easy—disability inclusion. Disability is often forgotten when people are looking at diversity. Usually, the areas that we first look at are race, age, gender, and military service. Disability perspectives can overlap with those of an aging population as well as veterans who are wounded and/or disabled, but the unique part of intentionally including disability as part of a diversity plan leads to creative problem-solving and universal design concepts in many areas—technology, robotics, city planning, biomedical engineering—to name a few. Making the case for why that is important to Tech was easy. Describing my perspective and experience was also easy.

The project idea was the hard part. I started with a plan to present to all the Diversity and Inclusion Councils from each college and institution on the resources around campus to give them perspective from people with disabilities. This was too large and grandiose. Magnus and Beril helped me to whittle the idea down, and I arrived at the idea of DiversAbility Day.

During the first couple of months in the Fellows program, I met with people from departments that I believed would be interested in this idea, and interested in helping me to make it happen. As I talked with them, I learned about projects and efforts that have taken place on campus, as well as research that focuses on the disability community. This helped me to develop the activities for DiversAbility Day.

The first half was a panel discussion with Helena Mitchell from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy and Wireless RERC, Rebecca Frost from the Office of Disability Services, Ken Surdin from the Excel program, Carolyn Phillips from AMAC Accessibility Services, and Liz Persaud from Tools for Life. I moderated the panel with questions focused on what the Tech community might not know about their programs and how they can be a resource. Some problem solving occurred during this discussion, and ideas for future projects related to disability inclusion emerged. One example is the idea of starting an Employee Resource Group dedicated to sharing resources and information related to disabilities.

The middle of the event included adaptive equipment and research to engage attendees in active learning. We had brief presentations from the KNIT Mentoring program and CATEA. The end of the program separated attendees into small discussion groups, where they were presented with an accessibility issue that they had to solve using their new knowledge of resources on campus.

I was happy that discussion led participants to the idea of developing a sort of consortium among the departments around campus [who serve and support people with disabilities] to actively seek each other for collaboration efforts and to stay in regular communication with each other.

It is my hope that this can become an annual event. A wonderful position to see Tech achieve would be for individuals to expect and anticipate participation of people with disabilities, rather than react and respond as an afterthought.



Conflict Resolution Skills Training for Graduate Students in Science 
by Sheila Cranman

Nov. 1, 2018—I am an attorney in the Office of Legal Affairs and a mediator. My office suggested that I apply for the DI Fellows Program with a project proposal about teaching conflict resolution to a lab at Georgia Tech to increase communication skills and try to prevent employment disputes from coming to Legal Affairs.

First, I decided that I would teach conflict resolution to graduate student women and then I met with faculty and staff on campus to get support for the proposal. When I called Interim Dean of Sciences David Collard to discuss my proposal, he put me in touch with the graduate student group Women in Chemistry.

This group helped me with the scope of the training. I decided on a six-hour training divided into two-hour sessions over May, June, and July. Follow up surveys were positive and seem to indicate the sessions gave the students skills for dealing with conflicts in labs and in their lives.

Dean Collard also put me in touch with Professor Pamela Pollet, who teaches the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) CHEM 8002, a required course for first-year chemistry graduate students before they can work in a lab. During two 50-minute sessions, I covered communication skills, interactive exercises, finding common ground and the students role played the skills in scenarios that they may encounter in their labs.

"I am learning to slow down, be mindful of what I am teaching and really process how the students respond. Listening and silence are key skills."

In both instances, I had to remind myself that I was not teaching mediators; I had to think about what materials I wanted to use and how I wanted to present them. I am learning to slow down, be mindful of what I am teaching and really process how the students respond. Listening and silence are key skills.

Graduate students are busy, so having the conflict resolution skills as part of a required course such as CHEM 8002 makes sense. In August, I reached out again to identify all the professors teaching RCR classes to offer to teach sessions on conflict resolution to their classes. There was enthusiastic response. This fall I taught conflict resolution sessions in RCR courses in psychology, math, and earth and atmospheric sciences. This month, I will be teaching a two-hour session on conflict resolution skills to students in a physics RCR course. More sessions are planned for the spring.

Along the way, I learned that Mary Lynn Realff, Angus Wilkerson and Postdoc Kata Dosa are working on an NSF project about teaching graduate students to work in teams and developing communications skills. It’s a different approach from mine but our work goes hand in hand. I am grateful to Kata and Mary Lynn, who observed me teach and gave me invaluable feedback.

I am very grateful to my office especially Senior Attorneys Pamela “Sissie” Rary and Kate Wasch for their support. The concept that everyone sees the truth through their own eyes is important in understanding how misunderstandings can occur and important in teaching, living and working respectfully with others. We should always be able to find some common ground.