University leaders encouraged new faculty members Aug. 23 to engage with those outside their disciplines and explore cross-disciplinary opportunities.
More than 200 faculty members filled the Michigan League Ballroom for the annual campuswide New Faculty Orientation, sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.
Provost Laurie McCauley told the audience about Astrum — a solar-powered car created by U-M students. The car will race this year across Australia in the international Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. The team of more than 100 students represents 15 majors including engineering, art and design, psychology, economics and communications.
“I wanted to tell you about this project because it really typifies what we aspire to do and to be on this campus. It represents learning combined with adventure; it’s beautifully cross-disciplinary,” McCauley said.
She said new faculty can discover opportunities that “enable and reinforce fruitful connections between disciplines” by utilizing resources such as the Institute for Social Research, the Interprofessional Health program and the Humanities Collaboratory.
Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research, delivered a presentation about her office’s ability to catalyze, support and safeguard faculty research.
She urged faculty members to form connections outside of their department and collaborate on the borders of disciplines because “it’s here where the most magical research and thought will occur.”
“Michigan is a place where art and design inform medicine, sociology informs environmental science and the humanities augment policy decisions,” Cunningham said.
The CRLT Players, an interactive theater troupe, presented “Act for Equity.” The performances were designed to help faculty address questions central to diversity, equity and inclusion, and to recognize their responsibility to promote equity in their teaching.
Actors re-created instances where students felt isolated due to their teachers’ lack of awareness regarding race, sexual orientation and backgrounds, and a video performance illustrated the importance of a clear, detailed syllabus.
Matthew Wizinsky, associate professor of practice in urban technology in the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, found the performances moving and memorable.
“It can be really impactful to be involved in a lot of conversatioans about what DEI thinking or DEI practice looks like in the classroom, but to have performers really embody it makes a really different impact,” Wizinsky said.
Faculty engaged in lively discussions and developed ideas for ways they can implement equitable teaching practices in their own classrooms. Key strategies included reading broadly about identities that are unfamiliar, inviting students to share their identities, and talking with students about their commitments to cultivating an inclusive classroom.
Faculty members then joined breakout groups for discussions led by CRLT consultants, experienced U-M faculty members, and IT professionals from offices across campus.
Alexis Riley, a postdoctoral fellow in theatre and drama in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, said she felt encouraged by the discussions in a session about advancing learning through emerging technologies.
The session included a panel of faculty members who detailed implementing new technology, including artificial intelligence and virtual reality, in their classrooms. New faculty members also learned about funding opportunities and free tools to help them better understand rising technology in the Duderstadt Center, LSA and other institutes across campus.
“I was just kind of blown away by the wealth of resources available. I’ve been to similar presentations that are having these discussions in a really hypothetical way … whereas in this presentation they were telling us how to connect and that was really impressive,” Riley said.
Following the event, faculty were able to browse a resource fair with staff representing more than 40 U-M offices.