Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Philosophy of Professor Biswas
The idea of diversity involves acceptance and respect. Diversity is acknowledging people from different race, ethnicity, gender, age, physical abilities, sexual orientations, socio-economic status, religious and political beliefs can work together and offer multiple perspectives to solve a problem. In today’s global environment and particularly in the industrial and academic world, the importance and necessity to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than ever.
I come from India, one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations in the world. A country with so many different languages, religions, cultures, food, and customs; living in harmony. Growing up in a middle-class Hindu family, I recognized my Indian identity at an early age – an identity that is forged in diversity. My childhood best friends were Muslim and Christian. The same way I celebrated Durga Puja and Diwali, I rejoiced Eid al-Fitr and Christmas. India was diverse, but diversity was not always all-inclusive. The very first time it rang a bell as I went to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at one of the prestigious national universities in India. There was not a single woman in a class of 100 students. I was staggered to know such a wide gender disparity in the field of engineering in India, only to realize the global scale of the issue is much more significant as I went on to pursue higher education. Specific to the field of thermal-fluids, and energy research, gender diversity must improve.
When I first arrived in the United States, I was told that the premise of the United States is diversity. It is indeed a land of opportunity that does not discriminate based on race, color, or gender. However, the statistics did not agree. I was concerned finding that the students from Hispanic and Black communities are underrepresented in United States schools by a large margin. Even though the roots of these problems were deep, one thing was clear. At a time when regular human space travel seems credible, diversity in the United States schools is a real issue. Engineering is a highly collaborative field in which a diverse student body can help bring different ideas to tackle the challenging problems in society.
During my doctoral studies, I designed and taught multiple short-term courses for Purdue’s Gifted Education summer program. I was teaching students from age seven to seventeen, coming from a variety of cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. This was the first time; I was introduced to various education and teaching methods for ‘gifted students.’ I realized the learning style and interaction behavior of Native American young students is different from Asian or Hispanic. In one such summer program, I was teaching a course named ‘experiments in fluids.’ In a class of 20, I had 10 kids from Columbia who did not speak or understand English. A Spanish interpreter translated my lectures in real-time. However, the interpreter had no science background. It was challenging for the interpreter to translate scientific concepts fast and accurately. This was when diagrams, pictures, and Google Translator came in handy. For the rest of the course, I was mostly teaching by showing images, symbols, and presentation materials in Spanish, translated by Google. The student satisfaction index at the end of the course made me realize that even though the language barrier posed a serious challenge; the love, joy, and willingness to teach fluid mechanics helped me overcome all the problems.
Economic diversity poses a significant challenge in higher education. I was an active volunteer for Asha for Education – Purdue chapter. Asha (means hope) is a non-profit organization that financially supports underprivileged child education in rural India. While volunteering for Asha’s funding campaign, I realized that I was privileged enough to receive an education. However, not every kid around the globe has this privilege. While recruiting students for the 3P Lab, I focus only on academic accomplishments but also understand the financial background and go the extra mile to explore various scholarship opportunities for the student.
A general idea exists that ‘age’ is a big enemy towards effective learning. In a distance learning propulsion class, where I was appointed as a teaching assistant, nearly all the students were full-time working professionals. To accommodate everyone’s schedule, I held my office hours via WebEx in the evening, outside regular work hours. Besides, I was younger than the students. Interacting with so many older age groups, full-time working professionals, was challenging yet extremely rewarding. The experience and problem-solving skills of these students were very different. Teaching and guiding these older students made me confident that I can handle a diverse student population effectively. I even learned punctuality from students working in the United States navy and air force. They always used to submit their homework on time and never asked for a single extension.
However, I further realized the strength of diversity at Sandia National Laboratories. I had colleagues and collaborators of seven national identities, men and women, and people from the LGBTQ community. With them all, I, a first-generation immigrant, worked in a secured federal facility widely known for nuclear weapon development. The reason we practiced diversity, equity, and inclusion at Sandia is not just because it is human, but it is essential to future innovations. Differences in age, gender, race, culture, education, and other factors of an individual’s background can be leveraged as assets, particularly towards innovation in the field of engineering and social sciences.
‘Diversity’ means more than just acknowledging or tolerating differences. Diversity is a set of conscious practices which starts with removing the minority tag and making everyone around you feel inclusive, comfortable. As a professor and researcher, I intend to use all my previous experience and practices of diversity in teaching, mentoring, and research. I plan to take the following steps to improve diversity and inclusion in my class and the 3P Lab research team.
- Actively recruit and retain students from underrepresented groups
- Involve more and more undergrads in 3P Lab, with a focus on equal men to women ratio
- Help underprivileged students arrange fellowships
- Active leadership roles in various diverse campus groups
- Translate my experience of teaching gifted students working with local middle and high school teachers and students to promote STEM education
In short, I will do my best to introduce science and technology to underprivileged, underrepresented groups of society. In the twenty-first century, diversity should be the norm. Not just because it is human, but it is essential to our future innovation.