A DEI Culture Shift

The job of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community rests not with one organization or group of people, but with all of us. As part of the University of Michigan College of Engineering’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Implementation Committee, the Communications & Marketing (C&M) team took on the challenge of communicating the importance of DEI in the field of engineering, and why it should matter to all of us.

Through storytelling, thought leadership, messaging, marketing and visual assets, the C&M team coordinated with leaders across the College to set the stage for change over several years. We also pushed ourselves to tackle tough topics, and explore our own biases.

What resulted is a portfolio of work that not only explores issues of identity, race, bias and privilege in the engineering field, but also celebrates how members of our community are dedicated to equity and inclusion. In 2020, we culminated this work with a suite of materials that launched major initiatives for lasting change. This was made possible in part by our years-long effort to communicate around these issues, and normalize the topic as one of critical importance for our community.

This was awarded a Grand Gold, the highest award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

DEI Blog and Email Updates

We created the DEI Blog and Email Updates in order to share with our community all the work that was happening in DEI in an engaging and accessible way. The blog updates were kept short, and came from many members of our community rather than from the institution. In this way, we hoped to engage people over the long-term. Since 2017:

Screen capture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion blog

DEI, Engineered Visual Communications Campaign

A visual communication campaign was launched to cut through the noise and amplify awareness of the College’s DEI efforts. This campaign took a unique approach to visual styling and marketing language that incorporated short soundbytes of progress with bright and bold graphic elements. The visuals were posted on social media as well as throughout campus, including light poles, posters, postcards and large banners on the diag tower.

Thought Leadership

Change cannot be accomplished within an organization if the leadership does not set the tone. To ensure our organization felt both the urgency around DEI and confidence that support came from the top, we implemented regular leadership messaging from both our Dean Alec Gallimore and our DEI Director Sara Pozzi. (Example: Now is the moment, so what do we do?)

But more than that, we decided to dive deeper into how we achieved some critical milestones – such as achieving gender parity in our faculty leadership – to share those findings with others and lead change in the industry. Our writer Kate McAlpine spent months talking with leadership to learn the decades-long background, then expertly crafted that into a digestible narrative. We placed that narrative as an op-ed into the Chronicle of Higher Education, then followed that up with a webinar for the American Society of Engineering Education. Finally, we turned that content into a web product for continued use and marketing.

Regular storytelling around DEI efforts and identity

In addition to these focused campaigns, the team made dozens of pieces of content over several years dedicated to both highlighting the work being done in DEI, as well as the people involved in our community.

  • A six-part feature story, “Six Diversity Myths in Engineering,” published digitally and slated for print in 2021, that dispelled the various arguments as to why and how engineering is immune to issues of racism, bias and more. The myths were then turned into a lecture series featuring our own engineering faculty in a greater effort to reach their peers with this important messaging.
  • An announcement for a large-scale proposal for education around DEI issues for the entire Michigan Engineering community – all 10,000 students, 600 faculty and 400 staff.
  • Stories and videos about strengthening the engineering talent pipeline and retention, such as recruiting Detroit students through the Michigan Engineering Zone, and underrepresented faculty candidates through our NextProf future faculty program
  • Stories, videos and news pitches of the work done by our Engineering Education researchers on the impact of mentoring and infrastructure.
  • Profiles of our female and underrepresented faculty and students such as Joi Lynn Mondisa, Lynn Conway, Rhonda Jack and others. 
  • Stories, videos and news pitches of how our engineers are tackling issues of equity and bias in their engineering solutions, such as wheelchair accessibility on autonomous shuttles, robotics classes that act as bridges rather than weeding out those without high levels of calculus, and how research funding is disproportionately weighted against Black researchers.