It’s always fun to see what is happening out in the STEM workforce and how they are continuing to learn who they are and what they value. That way we can, here at UK, help our students prepare best for what they are seeking – whether they are looking for a job specifically in the STEM fields or not.
A recent article by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post “The Surprising Thing Google Learned About Its Employees – And What It Means For Today’s Students,” described what they learned about their highly touted workforce. The most valuable skills were not, as one might imagine, the “hard” skills of the use of technologies, programming or data analytics. Instead:
… the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard. (Strauss, 20 December 2017)
This is a range of skills that any and every course offered at the University could teach – and especially in the majors’ introductory and their capstone courses. It should be noted that the above list is not something that faculty or teaching staff must do for the students. It is more important for the classroom design – and the course learning outcomes – include the development of students’ skills, especially those which are evidenced in a way by which each student can contribute to others’ “emotional safety.” We can, as instructors, unknowingly reinforce students’ well-honed “bullying” skills, i.e., by responding primarily and repeatedly to those who put their hand up in class when asked for contributions, by watching passively as a student-led debate goes off into a series of personal confrontations between a verbally facile few, by presenting examples from one’s disciplinary field that end up being representative only of the elite.
The new initiative led by the Division of Student and Academic Life, Wildcat Foundations, includes a focus on Diversity as a foundational dimension. We often hear the word “diversity” and imagine it to mean ethnicity/race, gender, SES demographics in higher education, but what the word “diversity” means for the Wildcat Foundations is more about the kind of evidences from skill-building like described above. In other words, supporting – especially our first-year students – to be more open to diverse ideas and worldviews. That they seek out and are curious about responses from people with backgrounds or cultures that are different from their own. They will want to reach out in group settings and ensure that every “team member” feels valued, confident (even if it means making a mistake) and safe here and now. The UK faculty and staff must role-model and mentor this skill, too. We all would have high expectations for the students around us to demonstrate the skills necessary for growing and nurturing a diverse community of thinkers.
As our UK Bias Incident Response Coordinator, Carol Taylor-Shim, always asks: “How have you contributed to a culture of belonging today?”