Cornell University: Cornell Engineering partners with Intergroup Dialogue Project

Cornell Engineering is accelerating its efforts to foster a supportive community that enables meaningful communication across differences. As part of the college’s Belonging at Cornell initiative, and through a new partnership with Cornell’s Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP), it will provide multi-phased programming focusing on frameworks and skills for intentional communication and collaboration to all engineering faculty members.

Established 10 years ago, IDP is an academic unit dedicated to empowering all members of the Cornell community to engage in critical dialogue that develops skills and understanding relating to human connection, social identity, intergroup communication and strategic change. They work with students, faculty and staff throughout the university, and participation in their programming is a required part of the first-year experience for all students.

The new collaboration will be the first time IDP has engaged the entire faculty of a college in this manner. It comes at a critical moment for Cornell Engineering, which — after reaching gender parity among its undergraduate population in 2018 — now educates the most geographically, racially and socio-economically diverse population of undergraduate students in its history.

“As the individuals who set the tone for our college and help cement its culture over time, our faculty must take the lead in demonstrating a commitment to the support and success of everyone in our community,” said Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering. “By working with IDP, they will become better informed and more effective educators. The time investment the program requires is small compared to the immensely powerful impacts this training will have on the quality of discourse in our Cornell Engineering community and our ability to influence positive change in support of our students.”

IDP will work with all schools and departments in the college to provide their faculty with six hours of engaging sessions, the specific content and format of which will be tailored to the specific needs of the unit.

Adi Grabiner-Keinan, executive director for academic DEI education and the director of IDP, said the goal is to build the capacity required for faculty and college leadership to strengthen connection and collaboration within a diverse community.

“Recognizing the distinctive challenges and opportunities, as well as the unique culture within each academic unit, our thorough pre-assessment supports data-informed interventions and processes appropriate to each department’s specific needs,” Grabiner-Keinan said. “Ongoing assessment will allow us to better understand and address both the evolving needs of the unit and the short- and long-term impact of our collaborative work.”

José Martínez, senior associate dean for diversity and academic affairs at Cornell Engineering, noted that the partnership with IDP feels particularly necessary in the wake of the pandemic and national conversations about race in recent years.

“This is an opportunity to learn from what we’ve been going through, to find new ways to connect, to care for each other, to learn from our diversity, and to use that knowledge to make Cornell Engineering a better place to work,” he said, adding a reminder that faculty will not be the only community members working with IDP. “Our students are already doing this; we should ask nothing less of ourselves.”

College leadership is working with IDP to set goals for the initiative, and they expect that it will take more than a year for all faculty to complete the sessions with IDP. Staff leaders across the college – in academic units, student services and administration – will also be participating, and the feasibility of extending the partnership to additional staff is being examined.

“It is imperative that our staff leaders are aligned with this initiative and embody these values to realize the full impact of this important work across all subsets of our community,” said Erin Mulrooney, associate dean for administration. “Not only do we support both our student and faculty populations, we also support and engage with each other. Improving the quality of our engagement and deepening our understanding of our differences will lead to positive outcomes in all of our collaborations.”

In some academic units, the collaboration already has significant momentum. For example, the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences has already experienced the program.

“The work we did with IDP was extremely productive and will certainly have lasting benefits for our department,” said department chair Geoff Abers. “In fact, we have already signed up for additional work with them. I look forward to our continued partnership and to the positive impact they will have throughout the college.”

Other unit leaders have been quick to sign up since news of the partnership was first announced at a collegewide town hall on March 1.

“Working with the Intergroup Dialogue Project will complement the new programs and initiatives we’ve recently launched to increase the diversity of students studying materials science,” said Lara Estroff, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “This initiative will ensure we’re creating the best possible community to support faculty and enable students to reach their full potential.”

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