Feds to spend taxpayer money on safe zone training for gay and trans students

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The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) at Rowan University wants to help more people from the LGBTQ community enter the field of engineering. In order to progress that agenda, they, along with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIU), will be spending over $500,000 in federal grants to study ways to combat the cold reception they receive from those already working in engineering labs.

A joint study between the ASEE and the UIU will begin in January 2018, with two separate grants coming from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling $587,441. The NSF is a government agency that funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering through grants and cooperative agreements.

The NSF was created in 1950 by Congress “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense,” according to their website. They had an annual budget of $7.5 billion in their 2017 fiscal year, and are the funding source for “approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.” They are the major source of federal backing in fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences.

On Thursday, a grant worth $473,325 was awarded to the ASEE, and $114,116 was granted to the UIU, by the NSF to study and combat the reception members of the LGBTQ community get from the engineering community.

According to their grant:

“Recent research on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals in engineering has shown that the climate can be unfriendly (or ‘chilly’) for both students and professionals. This project aims to increase the inclusion of LGBTQ students and professionals in engineering.

“The project will identify issues faced by LGBTQ students and professionals in engineering, identify and implement strategies to create more welcoming engineering environments, and disseminate those strategies so that they can be expanded to a national level.”

The study will form the basis for an online course called “SafeZone.” The course would train college engineering professors so that they can be more inclusive to LGBTQ students. According to the grant:

“In addition, the research will be the basis of systematic development and formative refinement of an online SafeZone course to provide inclusion training to engineering students and professionals nationwide.”

Those leading the study, including Kelly Cross, a post-doctoral researcher for the UI, Stephanie Farrell, the chair of experiential engineering education at Rowan University, and Rocio Chavela Guerra of the ASEE, say in every sector of STEM professionals, LGBTQ students can expect a “chilly climate.” Citing cultural norms and professional ideologies within the profession, the leaders say it’s difficult to combat exclusionary practices.

“One negative consequence of this chilly environment is difficulty in recruiting and retaining talented LGBTQ individuals into the engineering profession,” the grant states.

The project aims to use “qualitative research to generate new knowledge about the processes of developing a community of practice to promote LGBTQ inclusion in engineering, how the members of the community develop into change agents, and what strategies are effective in reshaping norms and increasing LGBTQ inclusion in engineering departments.”

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