The 2022 IDEA Institute Conference showcases its GIANT program teams while seeking long-term impact on DEI at Grainger Engineering and beyond

4/27/2022 10:39:51 AM

Heather Coit

Students, faculty and staff from The Grainger College of Engineering and units across campus, representing 15 teams selected for the 2020 and 2021 Grassroots Initiatives to Address Needs Together (GIANT) program, had a chance to showcase their inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility-focused research for the first time in person at the IDEA Institute Conference on Monday.

[cr][lf]<p>Lynford Goddard, the IDEA Institute director, welcomes everyone to the Institute’s first in-person conference. “It’s so great to be here, to be in person, and to be able to reconnect,” Goddard said.</p>[cr][lf]
Lynford Goddard, the IDEA Institute director, welcomes everyone to the Institute’s first in-person conference. “It’s so great to be here, to be in person, and to be able to reconnect,” Goddard said. (Heather Coit/Grainger Engineering)

For Lynford Goddard, director of the IDEA Institute, the conference allowed him to reconnect with teams, who he said inspired him with their dedication to research-based initiatives in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and the thought process behind it.

“I think a lot of the success that we have today is through making connections, not just with your ordinary friends but by going outside your comfort zone, meeting people from other departments, from other parts of the college and other parts of the campus; and even external partners,” Goddard said.

GIANT program members - Holly Golecki, Bioengineering teaching assistant professor, and Raul Platero (M.S. ’22, Computer Science), have followed this mission and watched their network of partners grow since they joined the Institute in 2020.

Golecki and her team received funding for both Phase I and Phase II for their project entitled Building Confidence and Engagement through Undergraduate Research. What began with Academic Redshirt in Science and Engineering (ARISE) student recruits participating in soft robotics research expanded to include students from the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and later a connection with Tasha Mamaril, associate director for Undergraduate Research.

"Dr. Mamaril has amazing connections with students through her existing programs, and it really helped us to broaden our reach and research approach in Phase II,” Golecki said. “Given the success of our GIANT- funded program here at Illinois, we were able to connect with other institutions to initiate a multi-institution undergraduate research network supported by the National Science Foundation in collaboration with Harvard University and Bunker Hill Community College.”

[cr][lf]<p>Computer Science graduate students and GIANT program members, Raul Platero, left, and Federico Cifuentes-Urtubey pose together at a photo booth at the conference.</p>[cr][lf]
Computer Science graduate students and GIANT program members, Raul Platero, left, and Federico Cifuentes-Urtubey pose together at a photo booth following their lightning talks. (Heather Coit/Grainger Engineering)

Platero, who gave a lightning talk about his team’s 2020-selected project, Decreasing Barriers for Underrepresented Groups by Clarifying Expectations in Graduate School on Monday, also saw the impact his research had on external groups when he and his team recently presented their published work at the American Society for Engineering Education's Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity (CoNECD) Conference. While attending, Platero said he met others interested in starting their own IDEA Institute-type organization at their respective universities. Connections like these have helped him find the human side of academics.

“As a graduate student who was primarily doing technical research, the IDEA Institute provided me and my team the opportunity to explore research more focused on the experiences of students in our departments,” Platero said.” Without the IDEA Institute, such a transition would have been more difficult considering we only had an initial idea of what we wanted to explore. It allowed us to increase our network and find mentors who helped us at each step of the way.”

Both Goddard and Grainger Engineering dean, Rashid Bashir, addressed the need to make the IDEA Institute sustainable and create a longstanding impact, which includes developing DEI best practices and publishing them to encourage support from other universities, creating talent-building activities to increase a more diverse hiring pool, working with faculty to further integrate DEI concepts into course materials and applying for additional external funding to help support large, college-wide DEI efforts.  

Members of the GIANT program team, Leadership and Excellence in Engineering Pathways (LEEP) share their research with attendees at the conference. (Heather Coit/Grainger Engineering)
Members of the GIANT program team, Leadership and Excellence in Engineering Pathways (LEEP) share their research with attendees at the conference. (Heather Coit/Grainger Engineering)

“What we do as an institute really reflects what we value as a college,” Goddard said. “It’s great to have the dean here to reaffirm that, to state where we look to move as part of our strategic direction.”

“We want to do this important work to really make our college and our campus a place which welcomes people from all backgrounds and experiences, and really bring that together,” Bashir said. “I think integration of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within our research and teaching enterprise; and weaving it with the fabric of everything we do, is important to the future of our society, the nation and the world.”

Eight projects were recently selected for the 2022 GIANT cohort to further expand the IDEA Institute’s impact. To read more about these efforts, visit GIANT Project Selections 2022.