Interactive Theater Offers New Approach to Faculty Development

in ECE Spotlight Faculty, ENG Spotlight Faculty, NEWS, Spotlight Faculty

ECE Training Program Aligns with National Goal to Increase Diversity in STEM

By Sara Cody

CITE performance photo

It was a scene undoubtedly familiar to any faculty member who has been a mentor for a student. Maia, a student discussed her experience working on a group project in one of her classes with her advisor, Hal. Only instead of taking place in an office, the scenario played out on a stage with a room full of ECE faculty observing.

The actors posing as faculty and student were a part of the Cornell Interactive Theater Ensemble (CITE), an initiative out of Cornell University, which combines live theater and audience participation to conduct employee education and training. Increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a national focus. Tools such as interactive theater can be a particularly effective when demonstrating how to navigate difficult situations in the workplace and academia, such as issues of racism and sexism, by making it real and personal to the faculty.

According to CITE, the goal is “to heighten awareness, build problem-solving skills, and provide a bridge between theory and application,” with each performance tailored to fit the needs of a specific institution. The format of the program is a presentation of a scenario by professional actors followed by a discussion of observations and sharing thoughts and opinions. A unique component of the program is the question and answer session after the performance, in which the actors stay in character and field questions from the audience about their perspectives of the conversation.

ECE is committed to acting as a champion of the nation’s and university’s goals to increase diversity in STEM. Professor W. Clem Karl, chair of ECE, identified faculty training as supportive step for the initiative while attending a CITE performance at a conference in 2015. This is the second year in a row Karl hosted CITE for a faculty development workshop.

“In carrying out our educational and research missions, our faculty and staff are naturally brought into contact with an extremely diverse population. It’s an especially important time to be able to understand multiple points of view as well as the impact of our own perspectives on what and how we communicate to our students,” says Karl.  “It’s a different set of skills than our engineering training teaches us and I think it’s great that ECE faculty engage these opportunities to reflect and learn.”