7.2 Diversity & Culture of Inclusion Program Planning and Direction

Last updated on 2021/08/09 by Pamela Beth McLeod

7.2.1 ERC DCI Program Expectation

As has been stated, ERCs have a broad mandate to increase diversity and invest in a culture of inclusion. DCI programs are expected to integrate with all aspects of the ERC and to benefit all individuals within the ERC community; this includes faculty, staff, postdocs, students, K-12 learners, industry partners, and stakeholders. It is expected that ERC's DCI programs will impact the ERC, the broader engineering community, the scientific enterprise, and society. They will also collectively serve as examples for other organizations to follow. According to the NSF Gen-4 ERC program solicitation, the expectation is that each ERC is diverse at all levels of the Center and employs an intentional and evidence-based approach to developing a culture of inclusion.

DCI work is ongoing and never complete. It is hard, emotionally demanding, often uncomfortable, and incredibly necessary work that challenges the individual, the institution, and the systems in which the ERC operates. DCI-informed Research

ERCs have the opportunity to advance DCI through research within the ERC's DCI program or through the ERC's overall research program. For example, collaborative DCI research across ERCs that investigates constructs within ERCs can illuminate promising DCI practices with positive impacts on advancing a culture of inclusion. An ERC's overall research program may also have a DCI focus with societal impacts, such as advancing social justice or improving public health.

7.2.2 DCI Program Management Roles of DCI Program Personnel

NSF is not prescriptive regarding how each ERC structures and supports its DCI program staff. While earlier-generation ERCs sometimes employed a single staff person to manage both the Engineering Workforce Development (EWD) and DCI programs, the increased focus on DCI in Gen-4 ERCs makes specialized and dedicated DCI staff essential. This is especially critical if the DCI Director is a faculty member or administrator with additional responsibilities. Providing additional strategic staff support will facilitate a more robust and comprehensive DCI program.

While all ERC personnel have a responsibility to contribute to a culture of inclusion, the 2021 NSF ERC Statement on Diversity and Culture of Inclusion describes the role of the ERC Diversity Director as including having responsibility, authority, and accountability to set and achieve diversity goals and cultivate a culture of inclusion. The Diversity Director must have independent decision-making capabilities, the ability to impact budget decisions, and be provided the resources needed to accomplish diversity and culture of inclusion goals. We suggest this person be a part of the leadership team, and the person in this role must interact with research thrust leads and industry representatives, as well as education and workforce development personnel. This includes supporting the recruitment and retention of ERC participants at all levels (students, faculty, staff) whose identity characteristics place them in historically marginalized groups. Additional DCI program staff support the implementation of the DCI strategy at the direction of the ERC's DCI Director. Qualifications of the DCI Director

As described in the 2021 NSF ERC Statement on Diversity and Culture of Inclusion, the DCI Director must have demonstrated knowledge and expertise in broadening participation. Given the position's roles and responsibilities, additional qualifications and expertise should include at least the following:

  •  Expertise in recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in engineering
  • Familiarity with DCI research, literature, and evidence-based practices and/or active on past DCI-focused research
  • Ability to influence, communicate with, and actively collaborate with university administrators and faculty as well as students and postdocs across institutions

  • Experience with strategic planning and program development, implementation, and assessment

  • Engagement in the broadening participation community (professional organizations and conferences, university communities of practice, etc.) and having an ability to leverage that association to form strategic partnerships that are beneficial to the ERC

Other qualifications will be dependent on the needs of the individual ERC, such as experiences in strategic planning, assessment and evaluation, or engaging participants from specific groups historically underrepresented in STEM. DCI Director's Position in Center Leadership

The 2021 NSF ERC Statement on Diversity and Culture of Inclusion highly recommends that the DCI Director be a fully participating member of the leadership team and interact regularly with research thrust leads, industry representatives, and Engineering Workforce Development personnel. While each ERC structures its leadership teams differently, the DCI Director is integral to overall center operations and should be included as a respected and valued team member alongside Directors of the other three ERC foundational components (Convergent Research, Innovation Ecosystem, and EWD) on the leadership team. Roles of Broader ERC Leadership Team

To maximize impact of DCI programs, it is essential that ERC leadership has a significant, visible, and authentic role in DCI strategy and programming. Authentic engagement of ERC leadership can reinforce the importance of DCI efforts to the entire ERC community and foster shared accountability across the ERC. The ERC Director's role is to use their influence to lead the rest of the ERC to advance DCI goals and to fully engage the DCI director in the leadership team. It is the leadership team's role to ensure that all ERC processes and procedures are inherently inclusive and supportive of DCI goals.

 As stated in the 2021 NSF ERC Statement on Diversity and Culture of Inclusion: ERCs can demonstrate continually fostering a strong culture of inclusion by:

  • Demonstrating a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion from the leadership team

  • Balancing shared accountability so that the ERC Diversity Director is not solely responsible for accomplishing the diversity goals or the culture of inclusion goals.

To that end, the leadership team is responsible for ensuring that the ERC's policies and practices are inherently inclusive, and that a culture of inclusion is core to the design and implementation of all ERC activities (i.e., funding allocation, center meetings, fellowships, recruitment, etc.). The ERC leadership team is also responsible for ensuring that its DCI efforts remain vibrantly and optimally engaged with the all-important DCI efforts at all of the partner institutions over the life of the ERC. Cross-institution Program Management

It is important that all ERC partner institutions, not just the lead institution, be actively involved in DCI activities. While there is no single prescribed partnership model, one strategy that has worked well for several ERCs is to have DCI-focused representatives from each partner institution form a committee that meets regularly. Some examples include:

  • NEWT has an Inclusion and Oversight Board composed of the Diversity Director (lead institution) and members from each core partner institution.
  • CISTAR's DCI Director has biweekly meetings with the leadership team, EWD team, and SLC.

  • ReNUWIt's DCI Manager (lead institution) serves as a liaison across institutions and between the Center's faculty/staff and student/postdoc DCI committees--each of which includes representatives from each ReNUWIt institution.

Cross-institution DCI program integration can leverage ERC recruitment of participants from underrepresented groups, advance co-authorship and co-mentorship, and enhance partner institution diversity. Cross-component Program Management

Many DCI Directors describe a strong relationship between the DCI Director and other ERC leaders as particularly critical to meeting the ERC's DCI goals; this includes integrating DCI throughout all four ERC foundational components. For example, DCI Director and EWD leaders' collaborations will advance DCI within the Engineering Workforce Development component. In addition to incorporating DCI best practices in Recruitment, effective collaborations with EWD leaders may include:

  • Ensuring that outreach activities consider access and equity (e.g., translating materials to Spanish and/or other relevant languages, using materials that are low-cost and readily available in the home or easy to obtain, etc.)

  • Encouraging undergraduate research experiences for students from minority-serving institutions that maximize publication-quality results for participants, involve (when possible) faculty mentors at the home minority-serving institution as co-authors, and provide students with multiple-summer experiences

  • Designing in-person and virtual programs including mentor trainings, outreach programs, speaker or seminar series, etc. that follow inclusive principles, including universal design

DCI Directors may also collaborate with industry liaisons and the ERC Industry Advisory Board oftentimes along with EWD leaders to foster inclusive mentoring programs, to engage industry role models in EWD programming, and other initiatives to advance a culture of inclusion and workforce diversity.

7.2.3 Strategic Planning

Each ERC is expected to develop a strategic plan to guide their DCI programs. The strategic plan is a living document that is updated throughout the life of the ERC to reflect changing conditions such as evolving ERC priorities, ERC or partner institution demographic shifts, or new or enhanced ERC collaborations over time. The strategic plan is included in the Annual Report in an appendix. Several examples of DCI strategic plans are provided here. Strategic Planning Considerations

While the DCI strategic planning process and strategic plan are unique to each ERC, there are some important common aspects to consider, including:

  • Engaging representatives from all ERC partner institutions within a given ERC in the DCI strategic planning process allows the DCI strategic plan to reflect both ERC-wide and campus-specific contexts.

  • Aligning the ERC's DCI strategy with university or department-level DCI plans and initiatives of partner institutions themselves strengthens the overall plan and supports sustainability.

  • Developing the DCI strategic plan in light of, and even in coordination with, the overall ERC strategic plan helps to ensure leadership buy-in and awareness of DCI goals and plans while embedding DCI programs more deeply in the full range of center activities.

  • Establishing metrics and timelines helps facilitate program assessment and drive progress.

  • Sharing the strategic plan with the entire ERC community provides transparency and fosters the culture of inclusion.

  • Including a strategy for accountability and/or incentives for meeting DCI goals emphasizes the importance of DCI to the ERC community.

  • Creating processes to review and modify the strategic plan, metrics, and timelines in response to formative assessment increases program durability. Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment and evaluation of DCI programs are essential to identify areas for formative improvement and to understand program impacts. Program assessment and evaluation should be led by an evaluator, with input from the DCI Director. In many cases, the same individual/team serves as evaluator for an ERC's EWD and/or DCI programs, which can streamline assessments throughout the center and provide a comprehensive understanding of intersecting or integrated EWD, education, and/or DCI program impacts. As outlined by NSF in the Gen-4 ERC solicitation, Evaluator(s) may be internal or external to ERC institutions, but should be positioned to carry out the evaluation plan as objectively as possible. Ideally the evaluation strategy is tied to the DCI strategic plan and guided by a logic model (see NSF logic model webinar slides/transcript and here for examples of both).

Examples and considerations for DCI program assessment and evaluation include:

  • Several ERCs administer annual climate surveys or periodic pulse check surveys to assess overall DCI program impact and the culture of inclusion within their ERCs. In addition to Likert-scale items, climate surveys often include open-ended questions such as share about a time when you did not feel included in the center/program and why or what suggestions do you have that would make the center/program more inclusive? to gain greater insights into the culture of inclusion.

  • Most ERCs administer pre- and post-surveys with EWD/DCI programs that may include the summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Research Experience for Teachers (RET), and Young Scholars programs. In these programs, measurable changes in such items as "interest in research" or "confidence in lab skills" are expected over the course of the program.

  • Several DCI Directors disaggregate ERC participant demographic data by gender and ethnicity for deeper analysis of the impact of and any disparities in recruitment or retention efforts, participation and learning through programs and events, and culture of inclusion throughout the center.

  • A consortium of three ERCs obtained an NSF supplement to support a cross-ERC evaluation study that will provide the community with customizable, adaptable, consistent, shared instruments.

7.2.4 Developing a Budget

It is recommended that the DCI Director discuss budget considerations directly with the ERC Director and budget committee. These conversations should begin as early as possible, ideally during the planning phases of the ERC, and be revisited every year. Unless there are significant resources being leveraged, core ERC funding will be necessary for a fully functional and robust DCI program. Since DCI is a core component of an ERC, there should be a shared expectation that the budget reflects its importance to the ERC. Further, it is expected that the budget consistently and continuously reflects attention to DCI over the entire ERC lifespan.

Depending upon the strategic plan and goals of the individual ERC, budget items to consider include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • DCI staff salaries

  • Diversity fellowships

  • DCI programming for ERC participants at all levels

  • Guest speakers or workshop presenters

  • DCI-focused research

  • Stipends, incentives, and/or awards for students, faculty, and/or staff supporting DCI programming

  • ERC participant recruitment, with associated travel

  • ERC community outreach, with associated travel

  • DCI assessment and evaluation including evaluators, if DCI evaluation is not already included in ERC-wide evaluation efforts

  • Teaching buy-out for faculty who serve as DCI Directors

  • Seed grants for pilot DCI programs within the ERC.

In addition to core ERC funding, DCI Program support can be obtained through additional grants, supplements, corporate or organization partnerships, and by leveraging institutional resources.

Some examples of supplemental funding obtained by ERCs include:

  • CBBG obtained an NSF Veterans Research Supplement (VRS) grant to support two veterans to conduct research.

  • CISTAR, CMaT, TANMS, POETS and ReNUWIt obtained NSF Research Experience and Mentoring (REM) supplements.

  • CNT obtained a supplement to fund their efforts with a local theater company that led diversity awareness training for the ERC.

  • CNT obtained supplements for AccessERC and ERC-INCLUDES, both of which promote sharing of DCI best practices across NSF ERCs and projects.

  • NASCENT and POETS leveraged institutional resources to have a recruiting presence at national diversity conferences.

7.2.5 Role of NSF

NSF provides general guidance regarding ERC DCI programs, such as with the 2021 NSF ERC Statement on Diversity and Culture of Inclusion, and offers input during monthly DCI Leaders' meetings and the ERC Biennial Meeting. The ERC Program funded a contractor to prepare this chapter of the ERC Best Practices Manual, working with a group of ERC DCI Directors. NSF representatives lead seminars and panels to inform the community about grant opportunities. ERC Program Officers also consult on ERC-specific questions and assemble Site Visit Teams. The NSF Engineering Education and Centers Division, which houses the ERC Program, also includes a dedicated Program Director for Broadening Participation in Engineering who is available as a resource and works in concert with the ERC Program in an advisory capacity.