Dr. Gina Svarovsky: Education, Broadened.
Think. Pair. Share. Podcast Transcript
0:00:09.5 Audrey Scott: Welcome to this Modern Education Podcast that explores learning, from the everyday exchange of thoughts and ideas to the theories and practices behind entire systems. Think education is cool? So do we. So we pair two conversations. Learn about our guests, then learn from our guests. Share your takeaways and come back for more. You're listening to Think. Pair. Share with me, Audrey Scott. Dr. Gina Svarovsky is the founding faculty director of Notre Dame Research's Center for Broader Impacts, associate professor of the practice for the Center for STEM Education, and the senior advisor to the director for the Institute for Educational Initiatives. Gina's considerable gifts have helped conceptualize and analyze the effectiveness of many programs and her vision and leadership is integral in supporting faculty in amplifying the societally relevant impacts of their research, both today and for future generations. I'm very happy to welcome her to Think. Pair. Share. Today. Hi Gina, how are you?
0:01:12.3 Dr. Gina Svarovsky: I'm great, Audrey. Thanks. It's great to see you.
0:01:15.7 AS: Oh, it's so nice seeing you. And even though we're on Zoom, I know one of the things I'm going to talk to you about are the gears behind you. I love those so much.
0:01:23.0 GS: I love it.
0:01:24.0 AS: But first of all, are you doing okay? Let me ask about you before I ask about the gears.
0:01:26.0 GS: Okay. Yeah, I'm doing great. A little bit of fall time cold going on here, but otherwise, things are going really well.
0:01:35.8 AS: Great. I'm right there with you on that cold thing. So, it's just November in South Bend. Sorry, listeners. Thanks for bearing with us on that.
0:01:42.7 GS: Exactly.
0:01:44.9 AS: Alright. Tell us about what's behind you. I know a little bit about the gears, but they're all these wonderful, are they wood?
0:01:49.9 GS: Yeah. So, this is actually a great story. When we did the great office reshuffle, once Remick Family Hall opened, I ended up moving to a different office on the same floor, the third floor of Carole Sandner Hall. And there's this part in my office, which is about a four foot wide part of a wall where you would normally have a statement piece of art. I am not a purveyor of gigantic portraits or other landscape art that would fit that. And so, for a little while I was trying to figure out what could I put there that would be personally meaningful, professionally meaningful. Not going to Walgreens and printing a 16 by 20 portrait of my family, but something that would make a lot more sense there. I'm very STEM-y as people know. So I wanted something to do with STEM. And for a while I worked in museums. And so I was like, "What if it could be interactive?"
0:02:50.4 AS: Oh, yes. Yeah.
0:02:51.1 GS: And then I just remember one of my favorite exhibits is a common one in children's museums, which is a gear wall where you have gears that are magnetic and they stick to the wall and you can spin them. And it just really gets kids really engaged and thinking about, "How do these things work and how do they fit together." And all that. So I looked for about 15 minutes. I looked at how much it might cost to actually get that, the actual museum exhibit in my office. And then was quickly realized that that would not be the appropriate purchase to make because I'm not actually a museum. So then I remembered that one of our STEM teaching fellows from Minnesota, Dr. Mark Westlake, he has this incredible lab at his school and he actually had made a gear wall with the engineering design process that he showed me when I was visiting there. And I was like, "I wonder if Mark would be up to having his students maybe design something for this wall. That would be awesome." And so I reached out to him via email, fully expecting like, he's got a full teaching load. He's doing all these... All the things that all of our educators are doing. And literally within a couple hours he wrote back and he's like, "This would be an awesome opportunity for my students. We would love to do this."
0:04:14.8 GS: And it was great. So we engaged in this a few emails back and forth, just in the design process of it all. And Mark and his students built this. And so it's made out of two big pieces of wood that are the anchor for the piece. And then they designed all the gears and then they laser cut them and they stained them and put it all together. And then they had to make a custom built crate to ship it because you can't just drop it off at the UPS store. And the crate weighed more than the piece itself. So, I'm happy to say that this is the first thing I've ever had that's needed to be shipped on a semi truck. But it arrived in great shape and it was a very jovial and ceremonial unboxing by Dave. He deconstructed the crate for us. And then it kinda sat out on the third floor of Carole Sandner Hall for a while, just laying flat because we needed the folks who come hang the things to come. And I was like, "Make sure that you bring two people because the sucker is heavy."
0:05:25.7 GS: So I believe it's about 45 pounds overall. So they came with the industrial size drywall anchors. But Mark and his students thought of everything, they created a wooden frame on the back that made for easy mounting. And it does spin. I'm not gonna get up and spin it right now, but if you spin the top, I guess the top right gear, they all spin together, so.
0:05:53.8 AS: Oh, my gosh, it's really beautiful. And I love that it actually works and that these students did this.
0:05:58.8 GS: Yep. Yep. The students from St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota, Mendota Heights.
0:06:03.9 AS: Nice.
0:06:04.7 GS: So yes, also the Alma Mater of Father Nate Wills.
0:06:08.6 AS: Oh wow.
0:06:09.7 GS: Yes.
0:06:10.0 AS: I think he's gonna be our next guest up. We'll see. Well, oops, spoiler alert.
0:06:18.7 AS: For people who don't know you, you are most affiliated with the engineering portion of STEM. So we'll get into that a little bit too, but this is looks like a marvelous feat of engineering back there.
0:06:27.0 GS: I'm really grateful. This is an amazing piece of art and that integration of art and engineering.
0:06:34.5 AS: Beautiful.
0:06:35.0 GS: And the work of the students is really great to have here hanging in the office.
0:06:38.7 AS: Yeah. It all comes together in that piece. That's lovely. Well, thank you for sharing that for sure.
0:06:43.4 GS: Of course.
0:06:44.0 AS: And go to the website and social media. We'll share these pictures of the gears when the episode drops. So, okay. Well, I know you're probably like, "Let's talk more about gears because the next section is the grab bag section."
0:06:57.3 GS: Oh geez. Okay. I'm ready.
0:07:00.1 AS: Okay, great. It's no surprise of course that for November, we're gonna do a Thanksgiving grab bag. So, it was a challenge to maybe find some things I hadn't used last year, but no, I actually found some new things I didn't know about Thanksgiving to a certain extent. So, actually side note, do you have a favorite food part?
0:07:20.8 GS: Okay. Well, so you guys know that my last name is Svarovsky 'cause that's my married last name, but my maiden name is Navoa. So, the Navoa family tradition for Thanksgiving my parents are Filipino immigrants. So, we made a tropical Turkey growing up. So, instead of the usual stuffing and whatever, we never did that. We would stuff our Turkey with pineapple and raisins, and apples, and brown sugar, a little bit of a green onion, salt and pepper. And so it was very tropical and fruity.
0:08:00.7 AS: That sounds delicious.
0:08:02.7 GS: It is pretty amazing and...
0:08:03.9 AS: What the heck?
0:08:05.9 GS: Yeah. And because of all the fruit in there, the Turkey is really delicious.
0:08:10.3 AS: Oh my gosh. Yeah.
0:08:11.3 GS: So, we'll probably be firing that up. I think I get to host this year. So I'm excited about that.
0:08:16.0 AS: What time do the Wellings and Scotts get to be at your house and so?
0:08:21.8 GS: Yes. And you can be there anytime. We'll be cooking all day.
0:08:27.1 AS: Oh my gosh. That sounds absolutely delicious. I think my mom was always big on the regular cranberries, no can cranberries. And I thought that was, yeah, growing up, but it certainly grew into that. And she and her family made a wonderful stuffing that is a secret recipe. So, we always love that so much. So those are some of my favorites. Do you have a secret recipe?
0:08:46.4 GS: No secret recipes, but my husband's family, Mike's family, they do a pretty mean pumpkin roll. Not gonna lie. So, I have been apprenticed into making those as well. So maybe those, some will show up around the office.
0:09:02.2 AS: We'll see. That sounds delicious. Okay. I'm gonna transition back in.
0:09:06.2 GS: Okay. Yeah. I'm only a little, a little nervous about the gravitas.
0:09:11.2 AS: Most people ended up being a little bit nervous, but this is honestly... I get a lot of good feedback. This is the... People really enjoy this fun section. So zero pressure.
0:09:18.9 GS: I'm very excited. Yes. Let's do it.
0:09:23.3 AS: And maybe I, of course, enjoyed a little more 'cause I already know the answers. But maybe that's slightly unfair on my part, but no, I appreciate your willingness to give it a whirl. So, okay. Let's see what we got. First one.
0:09:35.9 GS: Oh my goodness. Okay.
0:09:39.3 AS: Okay. I hope it's relatively true or false. So it's 50, 50 chance. Only male turkeys gobble.
0:09:46.6 GS: Ooh, I think that's true.
0:09:50.7 AS: You're right. True. It is true. A little factoid females and males cackle per in Yelp depending on the situation, but apparently the typical gobble sound only from males.
0:10:01.5 GS: Okay. Yeah. See this is... You're gonna expose my Achilles heel here. I am not a life science person. I only the E as you mentioned before.
0:10:12.9 AS: I'm waiting for the STEM part. I know I need to insert the A so I'm not even on the board yet, but that was very good. Good job. One for one. That was really good guess.
0:10:22.2 GS: Okay. Alright.
0:10:23.4 AS: Okay. Second one. This is a multiple choice one.
0:10:24.0 GS: Oh geez.
0:10:26.1 AS: Okay. In 1926 yikes. Is there history in Science? Okay. President Calvin Coolidge was gifted a live pheasant raccoon or groundhog who was intended to be on the table instead of a Turkey for their first family's Thanksgiving meal. Was it a pheasant raccoon or groundhog?
0:10:48.4 GS: For his sake, I'm gonna say pheasants, A 'cause I would not want either of those other two things.
0:10:56.3 AS: I know. And this one you should have gotten right. 'Cause it should have been a pheasant. I was thinking of what would be a normal thing. So I added pheasant because it was raccoon.
0:11:05.4 GS: Oh, that is... I don't even wanna think about that.
0:11:07.0 AS: What the heck? Right? I know it's so bizarre, but it said, he and first lady Grace Coolidge weren't inclined to eat the masked creature. Instead they adopted the raccoon, gave her the name Rebecca and kept her as a white house pet.
0:11:24.3 GS: Wow. There's so many things that I can't handle about that fact.
0:11:32.2 AS: It was too bizarre not to include.
0:11:36.1 GS: Thank you for educating me.
0:11:38.8 AS: I think you get half point just because it's so ridiculous. How could you possibly guess a raccoon?
0:11:42.8 GS: I'm gonna share that at our Thanksgiving dinner and everyone is gonna freak out. It's gonna be great.
0:11:49.7 AS: And then you open the back and then Rebecca is there. Rebecca too. Hello. Yes. Okay. Okay. Alright. That's very bizarre, but maybe I will also share this.
0:11:58.7 GS: Pinky, pinky square.
0:12:00.5 AS: That we're gonna share that. Yeah. Pinky square. Yeah. Okay. Next one. Back to true and false. The original TV dinner was the result of a Thanksgiving miscalculation.
0:12:10.3 GS: Is it true?
0:12:11.7 AS: Well, at least according to these facts which are, in 1953 and executive at Swanson miscalculated the company's upcoming Thanksgiving turkey sales, leaving the company with some 260 tons of frozen turkey. Yikes. Fortunately for them, a salesman named Jerry Thomas suggested packaging the excess product into trays along with some traditional sides and selling them to consumers as TV dinners. He had apparently been inspired by the pre-portion food on airplanes.
0:12:40.1 GS: Yes. See, I was thinking more the plane thing, but yeah. Okay. This is not great here but...
0:12:45.2 AS: You got a half point there for that raccoon thing. Remember?
0:12:48.5 GS: That's right. Okay. Okay. I'll take that. I'll take that.
0:12:52.9 AS: Let's see. And I bet you're gonna get this one. I saved this one and it's in the grab bag, but I wanted to do something since Thanksgiving is at its core giving thanks. I thought I'd include a question about gratitude. So does gratitude make us optimistic and happier, improve relationships, increase self-esteem, improve sleep and overall physical health or all of the above?
0:13:18.0 GS: It's got to be all of the above.
0:13:25.9 AS: Yay.
0:13:25.8 GS: Hooray.
0:13:25.9 AS: Hooray for gratitude. It does so many other things, but I think at this time of the year, it's kinda nice to remember to be able to take that time and even if it's just marked by one special day to center ourselves and be grateful. But I know I'm grateful for you and all the work that you do. And so I'm gonna switch gears now to get more into that. I usually do ask that pathway question, what brought you to Notre Dame? And I know it's a huge question, but where you are now in things, and then we can dig deeper into some of those things. Okay?
0:13:56.4 GS: Sure. Sure. That sounds great. And I appreciate you too, Audrey. I'm very grateful for you. So thank you.
0:14:03.2 AS: Thank you very much.
0:14:04.8 GS: So, let's all settle into this warm and cozy November afternoon and just go back. Yeah. So I actually, I went to Notre Dame for undergrad and I majored in chemical engineering and it was a really funny moment because I was a sophomore who entered the major, whereas many people were leaving. So, there are three of us walking in while many folks were...
0:14:29.3 AS: I would have been the one running from the building.
0:14:33.7 GS: And then as my time here was coming to a close, I applied for and got accepted to the sixth cohort of the Alliance for Catholic Education.
0:14:41.1 AS: Okay. So what made you want to apply for ACE?
0:14:43.7 GS: Yeah. I think I always had a deep interest in being some sort of educator. I didn't know at the time if it was gonna be a professional calling or just an informal educator role. Or a mentor of some sort. But I do think it was just a way for me to really live into that and see where is that intersection for me of all the things that I've done here in undergrad and education. And ACE was the perfect fit for that. So I was in St. Petersburg, Florida at St. Pete Catholic High School, go Barons. I had a great two years there. I wasn't sure if I would stay in the classroom or do graduate work. Some of it was circumstantial in terms of the decision, but I ended up going to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin and then really trying to continue digging to these questions around this intersection of engineering and education. Particularly, for students who are traditionally underrepresented or underserved in the engineering field. So yeah, just thinking about how to make engineering more engaging and welcoming to audiences where perhaps it wasn't traditionally.
0:16:06.7 GS: So, as I finished up the PhD, then I actually started working. I did a brief stint as a faculty supervisor here for ACE, which was great. And then started working at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota. And I was there for five years in their research and evaluation unit. It was great to have a desk that was about 50 feet from a dinosaur.
0:16:32.4 AS: Seriously?
0:16:33.4 GS: Yes.
0:16:33.6 AS: Oh my gosh. That's awesome.
0:16:34.7 GS: It was great. There was a wall between us, but.
0:16:37.8 AS: Did they have gears on the walls?
0:16:38.6 GS: Oh. Yes, they did have a few gear exhibits at that point. Yeah. So, I heard while I was there at the museum, the Center for STEM Education was starting up and luckily there was a role there that opened up that was focused on engineering education, particularly for K-12 audiences. And, lo and behold, here I am. So, I've done a number of things here at the Institute for Educational Initiatives since kinda coming back in 2014. But now I have a three component role. I have three parts to my job. So, the first thing is, I am a faculty member in the Center for STEM Education. As part of that, part of my job, I do some research still on kids and families in engineering. We also run the STEM Teaching Fellows program. And so I am a core faculty member in that program and love helping teachers think about engineering and bringing that into the classroom for middle school students and also STEM integration.
0:17:41.6 AS: I've seen some of that firsthand. That's a fantastic program. I love that during the summer seeing what you guys are doing. I get to peek in on that. So that's great. Yeah.
0:17:48.8 GS: That's right. Yes, you've been there when the teachers are filtering things or building platforms that float.
0:17:57.7 AS: Yes, absolutely. And that's part of what we'll get into later is, I don't know if I ever really was exposed to that stuff. And I love that you are exposing people to that. So, we'll get into that later. But I'm sorry, go ahead.
0:18:07.1 GS: Okay. Yeah, that's great. So that's kinda my main stuff for the Center for STEM Education. And then a quarter of my time I help out here at the institute level on the Institute leadership team as the senior advisor to the IEI director, who's Mark Behrens, who was a former guest.
0:18:25.1 AS: Yes, he was.
0:18:25.9 GS: Big fair share.
0:18:27.9 AS: Love talking to him too. Yes.
0:18:31.3 GS: And excited to be helping the Institute embark on a new era here. And then the last quarter of my job is the one that it's probably changed most recently. So, I am the faculty director of a newly founded center, which is... It's a university center called the Center for Broader Impacts. And it's actually housed not in the IEI, but it's housed in Notre Dame Research.
0:18:57.3 AS: Wonderful.
0:18:58.7 GS: Or NDR. So, that's Notre Dame's Office of Research. It provides the significant infrastructure for the whole university in terms of supporting faculty and other researchers and all of their research endeavors from applying for grants, getting grant proposals out the door to when they get those grants, helping them manage those grant funds and really just helping our faculty try to be as successful in their research endeavors as possible as part of building the academic reputation of Notre Dame.
0:19:30.0 AS: That sounds fantastic. Honestly, it does. And I am so encouraged. And I know it's just in its first couple of steps here 'cause it's brand new, but so excited that you'll be heading that up. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of that?
0:19:44.3 GS: Absolutely. So some folks may know that about a year ago, actually, we were in the third phase of an initiative here at Notre Dame called Moment to See, Courage to Act. And in this phase of the work, there was a call for big ideas from the Notre Dame community from the provost. And so we all submitted these three page proposals on some big ideas that we have. And there are several here in the institute that were just really outstanding ideas that our colleagues submitted.
0:20:19.1 AS: Yeah. Yeah.
0:20:19.9 GS: But I submitted this one for the Center for Broader Impacts because, for however many years I'd been here at that point, probably seven, I would get called off the bench because I'd worked in a museum and people are like, oh, you understand this thing called Broader Impacts, which is a key component of proposals that are typically funded by the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes for Health and increasingly other federal foundations that give grants for research. They want to know how is that researcher going to actually broaden the impact of that research that they're doing? How do they take it beyond the lab or beyond, this very narrowly focused thing to actually improve society or increase the benefit to society or the community at large?
0:21:15.3 GS: But it really is, according to the definition specifically from the National Science Foundation, it's just, how do you propose to achieve societally relevant outcomes that's beyond the scope of what happens in your lab. So the Center for Broader Impacts, I pitched it as, well, we could provide some infrastructure for the university to help with that because, a lot of our faculty who are embedded in their departments and they're running their own research labs, they're focused on that. They're focused on figuring out the next great, theory or the next great approach to developing something, and they may not have a lot of experience or expertise in doing broader impacts work. But there are some of us who do have experience in that. So how can we help find ways for faculty to more easily plug in to really powerful ways of connecting their research to the broader public or to educators or potentially to health care professionals. And the center, even though, we're just starting, that's what we hope to do. I would say that the main goal of the center is really to just try to amplify the research that's happening here at Notre Dame and extend the public reach of the work that's happening from our faculty and the big research centers on campus.
0:22:54.2 AS: That's a fantastic goal.
0:22:56.5 GS: The way that I see it is these federal funding agencies are investing in the folks doing the research here and beyond your standard pieces that come out of a research project at the end, besides the journal papers and besides those scholarly pieces, it's like, what other impacts to communities and society can this have more immediately? How does it move beyond the conference presentations and the journal articles and really get more quickly perhaps into the public or into the society or into the community? For example, can younger children learn about this, middle school students or high school students? Can K-12 teachers engage with these ideas and really help students understand more the nature of science or what's happening in engineering today and not necessarily what can be represented in textbooks that may be quite dated. So that's just one aspect. Certainly, there's a lot of Broader Impacts work that's related to specific fields helping educate healthcare professionals or get more towards product development, right away.
0:24:21.1 GS: So there's a lot of different ways to think about Broader Impacts, but I think at least in the early stages of the Center for Broader Impacts, really try to think about how do we help faculty who are very focused as they should be on their own research projects really plug in to other established programs here on campus that can provide connection to educators or connection to community members so that they don't have to start everything from scratch. So just one quick example of what that might look like. So as part of the Center for STEM Education, we have people, going through the STEM Teaching Fellows program and when they finish, they have a great set of skills and one of them is thinking about how to develop integrated STEM curriculum for middle school students.
0:25:21.1 GS: And so we have this opportunity for Notre Dame faculty if they want to include some money in their grants as part of their broader impacts effort, they can partner with us here at the STEM Center to host what we call a STEM teacher residency. And for one week, we have people who've been through our fellowship come to campus, spend a week in this person's lab, this researcher, this faculty researcher's lab. They're learning about the new science or the new engineering that's happening. And then they think about how can I connect some of those concepts that I just learned to things that I have to teach in the middle school classroom. And they will write a piece of curriculum based on that. And then they take it back to their classroom, they test it, they revise it, and then they're able to share that out to other educators. So that's one example of the type of partnership that can happen between other university folks and other university faculty and researchers and folks who are connected to educators and community members and just getting that research out of the lab and into a more public sphere.
0:26:40.1 AS: Okay. This is very interesting. And I know again, that it's in its early stages, but may I ask, is there a hope for a year down the line, five years down the line or whatever, would there be a place where everyone interfaces with something in the research department or would there be someone in every institute that is their point person for this? Does that make sense?
0:27:00.6 GS: Yeah, that's a great question. And as you say, we're in the very early stages of articulating what a structure might be. For now, I think the goal is to house everything in NDR, so in Notre Dame Research. And so the Center for Broader Impacts will sit there because that's where everybody has to go through if they're going to submit proposals or apply for these grants. And so being a part of that infrastructure is really helpful because then we can interface with people as they're walking through the process. So we'll probably... The hope is to have several more folks join the team and have one set of folks who are really consulting with faculty on these types of things as they come and they're like, okay, well, I have a grant, it's going to focus on this diffraction technique or whatever. And, we want to do some broader impact stuff, but we don't know what to do. And so we get a sense of like, okay, who do you want to reach?
0:28:07.6 GS: Do you want to reach high school students? Do you want to reach healthcare professionals? Do you want to reach other stakeholders in the community? And then once we figure that out, we're also trying to map who is working with these different groups on campus so that we can either help them directly or connect them to other groups like the Center for Civic Innovation which is housed in engineering or the DNA Learning Center which already has great Broader Impacts components built in. And faculty can then just connect with those groups or those programs and again, not have to build everything from scratch.
0:28:50.9 AS: Yeah, that's such a hopeful and helpful element for people who are coming here and working on whatever the research part is. I can only imagine that people are pretty excited about this.
0:29:04.3 GS: Yes, we've been very happy to see lots of folks are really excited to see the Center for Broader Impacts take off. Several faculty have already mentioned this is just going to make it so much more effective for us instead of us trying to develop these relationships with partners on our own or try to envision some sort of educational opportunity, like being able to plug in to things that already exist is very helpful. And, one of the things that we hope to do for CBI, the Center for Broader Impacts, is really try to understand different points of the faculty's trajectory. So as an assistant professor, what are the things that they need? Typically it's more just plugging into something 'cause they need to focus on getting tenure when they're at the associate level, there's a lot of maybe they have a little bit more space to maybe create a program on their own or develop a relationship on their own and we can help support that. And then even later when they're full professors, sometimes folks who really want to dedicate a bunch of their time and effort to this type of Broader Impacts work and there are specific grants that they can apply for. So how can we help support them in that as well?
0:30:27.5 AS: What a blessing it is that you are here to help and people are lucky to have you in that position.
0:30:34.1 GS: Thanks, Audrey. I appreciate that.
0:30:35.2 AS: You're welcome. You and I have had the pleasure of talking before, which I've really enjoyed, but I am certainly not an engineer in any way, shape or form, but I'm fascinated by your work and you're super passionate about a lot of this and I'm passionate about learning more about why that is. And I don't think I was really exposed to things maybe, but I had a wonderful education, but I think things obviously over the years shift a little bit. And I think it's great to know that some of the focus is trying to like, "Hey, how, why is there such that gap maybe?" And I feel lik3 maybe you came in to help folks at an earlier time. Why were you so interested in it? And how are you able to make the engineering seem actually tangible and real in people's lives?
0:31:17.6 GS: Well, this is a great question.
0:31:20.0 AS: Oh, yeah.
0:31:21.0 GS: Well, maybe, hopefully this isn't too far of a tangent, but I really heard your point about not being exposed to engineering early on. And that's one of the main areas of focus for my own research. 'Cause I look at how young kids, real little kids and their families can dig into engineering and demonstrate really deep engineering practice through fun activities that we design and create for them. But let me start by saying I didn't know what engineering was until I showed up to Notre Dame. And my high school teachers had talked about it a little bit, but didn't really... I didn't really feel I had a good sense of it. And that may have been why I didn't do it in my first year, 'cause I didn't know what it was. And then I had friends who are engineers and I was like, wow, that sounds really awesome. And I want to do that. And so that's why I switched in.
0:32:13.8 GS: As I reflect on the trajectory for me, I feel I had always been around engineering in my home growing up, but I didn't know it 'cause it didn't look what like "professional engineers" did. So my dad would design and build furniture all the time at home. He's built probably on the order of 20 to 30 pieces, over my lifetime. And they're not the pieces that you would see at IKEA, right? They're much more functional and all of them have wheels 'cause he likes things that roll around. But we talked, when I was little, he would always be building something. He would be sketching some stuff out. He would be designing it. And it was just to fill the needs that we had in our home. He would make a bench or a table or something. And I would see stages of the engineering design process, just inherent in what he was doing. But I didn't know that that's what engineering could be or what it was. And so I feel like I'm very lucky to be doing the research that I'm doing because I feel like we get to open up that door for young kids and their families earlier.
0:33:33.2 GS: And it's not just about helping young kids understand that the way that they're going about problem solving and the way that they're iterating on their design ideas and coming up with plans and brainstorming as a four and a five year old, that is engineering. It looks different and it's with different materials and it's with different designs, right? Like they're building structures out of blocks and stuff and not the Skyway bridge or something that. But they're still...
0:34:05.3 AS: You gotta start somewhere.
0:34:05.4 GS: That's right. They're still engaging in these really core engineering practices. And to learn at a young age that they're able to do that and that they are doing that is I think really, we hope very impactful for them in terms of believing that they can be a person who does that type of thing. Or they can take a creative approach to solving a problem and think really analytically about trade-offs, even when they're thinking about it in terms of building a shelter for a cute little stuffed dog or something like that. Which we do actually do.
0:34:46.7 GS: We have stuffed doggies and stuffed chicks, little baby hens. So yes, I think the point they want to make too though is, what we've been surprised about in our research is that the parents who learn that their kids are doing engineering and that they actually engage in engineering practices when they're trying to solve challenges like how do I get me and these other people in my home to where they need to be in the morning and everybody on time and everybody fed and everybody... You're figuring out a really complex process there. And you have to design that process. You have to iterate on it. You have to optimize it, those are all engineering things. And when parents that we work with, many of them are Head Start families, when they start to feel that empowerment of, oh, I'm actually doing a complex thing just by solving everyday situations with this approach. It opens up for them what they see their children doing in solving problems and helps everybody see we are all able to do this.
0:36:00.6 AS: Yeah.
0:36:00.6 GS: And they can support that in their kids 'cause they can recognize it now.
0:36:03.0 AS: I love that you said empowering because they probably never thought of that. I wouldn't have thought of that as an engineering cycle. And I think that's fascinating.
0:36:12.4 GS: Well, and, there will be folks who argue a more traditionally narrow view of engineering. That's what engineering is. It's the engineering design process. You go through all the steps, you build the thing, you test it and then you iterate. And I guess what we like, the folks who I do research with, my collaborators and I, what we would argue is engineering in real life doesn't always look like that. A professional engineer even is not always going through those steps in a linear order. They're jumping around all the time, they figure something out, they go back to the planning stage and redesign and it's not always neat and tidy as it can be presented in some of the curriculum packages that are out there. We take that to heart when we're working with families as well. It's like the way that you approach this, it's not going to be that you have to go through each step individually and only then will it count as engineering.
0:37:14.1 GS: If you have a family engaged in deep discussion about how they're going to build a structure for these three little chickens and protect them from dangerous predators, from the elements and stuff and they're really coming up with this detailed plan for how to do that. And then they build it and then they stick the chickens in there and they don't fit. And so they have to revise it.
0:37:40.9 AS: Ooops.
0:37:41.4 GS: Right. It's like there's a lot of engineering that's happening in that conversation and it can be really helpful for them to see a broader definition of what different engineering practices can be. And one of the big ones that we see in the research that we're doing is how the kids and their caregivers can really focus on what we call user-centered design. So it's how do you design something while really considering the needs of the person or the thing that's going to use that design? So we see it all the time with the videos that they send us, they're really focused on the needs of the little stuffed doggy and they're making specific designs for that. And that is something in even upper level engineering that can be hard to do and remember like you are really trying to, yes, you're balancing all these constraints of finishing on time and on budget and all that, but you still have to center the needs of the person who's using the thing. And these little kids are doing that just naturally. And so it's helping them build, empathy. And yeah, engineering can really help kids practice dealing with frustration and a bunch of these other skills that aren't necessarily tied directly to the engineering design process. Yeah.
0:39:10.9 AS: I think that is a critical piece.
0:39:14.5 GS: Yes. And I should say that we did a lot of our data collection for one of our... Actually, two of our studies during the height of the pandemic. And so everybody was home, right?
0:39:26.6 AS: Wow. Okay. Yeah.
0:39:28.1 GS: And one of the things that we kept hearing which really started to open our eyes to the potential power of this stuff is that when families were working on these activities together, they could see each other, particularly the caregivers looking at the kids in a new way of, oh, they're actually really creative in their problem solving. And when you're facing everything you're facing during the pandemic, it was just really refreshing for them to see, and just interact in a way that wasn't super intense. They were just having fun with this activity. But also the kids started to show that they were believing that they could do things like they could build solutions. So that's one of the reasons that we're really motivated to do this work as a research team is like, how can we help young people and their caregivers really believe that they can be agents of change who design solutions to make things better and particularly during this really challenging time, it was really hopeful, a hopeful moment for us to see that coming out in the data.
0:40:46.0 GS: Truly one of the things that I believe about... Like yes, there's all... I love all the math and engineering. I love all the science and engineering and the optimization and all that. But I also love how if you think about engineering and the engineering design process and you do it, it really gives you the sense of like, I can take on a problem and I can figure out how to solve it and I can make things better. And that's really, I think, why I'm called to continue doing research in engineering education is, that's a really important message for our young people to hear and learn and experience.
0:41:21.7 AS: I couldn't agree more. And again, I think you're a wonderful vehicle for this because you can bridge those spaces and some people don't have that skillset, but you do. And I think that that is just so encouraging that you and all those kids, they can see themselves as a force for good, as we like to say around here.
0:41:39.9 GS: Exactly.
0:41:41.6 AS: I've certainly appreciated your welcoming attitude regardless of my skillset coming in.
0:41:48.1 GS: Of course. Yeah. Well, and when you've been with us during STEM Teaching Fellows and seeing the teachers test their designs and just get really excited about that. We see this in many different contexts where you're taking on a really tough problem and then you can design a solution for it, it can feel really empowering. You get the sense of agency around it.
0:42:10.2 AS: Absolutely. Sort of on that score then, we often talk about maybe a hopeful look forward for either some of our work or if there's a particular issue that we're addressing. You've got a lot of really hopeful projects going and some new elements. Yeah. Is there a hope going forward for your work in CBI, for your current work with STEM, for work in the IEI?
0:42:34.3 GS: Yeah. Well, I guess, I always hope that I'm full of hope, there are a lot... There's so many things to be hopeful about even when there are a lot of challenges in our world. I would say specifically for CBI, one of my hopes there is really to try and bring some of this amazing work that's happening on campus. And I should say there's a lot of this already happening with other units on campus and CBI is not trying to be the end all be all with that. We're just trying to provide a key piece of infrastructure, the whole university to get people's research out into the world in some way or some capacity. And really, again, I just go back to, how do we amplify the impact of the research that's happening here at the University of Notre Dame? And there's so many ways and so many facets to that. And so I'm really hopeful, I'm sure there are many things that we haven't even thought about yet or ideas or solutions that are not yet even in our field of vision because there's so much good work happening here. And I guess everything is an engineering process for me, but until we... Our work will only be improved and refined as we iterate on it.
0:44:06.1 GS: And so really just excited about the directions that the CBI can go and the ways it can help faculty and more importantly, help our community and our society, overall. So that's on that front. And then I would say in terms of STEM education and engineering in particular, I'm just very hopeful that we're at this great place of really thinking about, well, what does it mean for young people to really engage in STEM education? And what does it mean to take an equitable approach to STEM education and make sure all students have an opportunity to engage in high quality STEM and the ways that that can really lay a foundation for them, not even necessarily to become a STEM professional, but just to operate in our world today like having some of these ways of thinking can be very, very helpful no matter what profession people take up. So I do, I love how you keyed into one of my favorite words is empowerment. And I really do feel a lot of hope that a lot of the work that we do here, it is a tool for empowerment for young people and the adults who are around them, whether they be caregivers, parents, or educators, and just really helping people see they have agency and they can make a difference and perhaps STEM and engineering can be a pathway to help them do that.
0:45:31.0 AS: I like that very much. Gina, I'm so grateful for your time today. Hopeful and grateful. I think that's a good way to head into Thanksgiving for us.
0:45:38.9 GS: Yes. Hopefully no raccoons, no raccoons at the Thanksgiving table.
0:45:44.4 AS: No.
0:45:45.2 GS: No we're gonna go straight up Turkey.
0:45:48.5 AS: Yes. Gramm aries in Turkey.
0:45:50.7 GS: That's right.
0:45:50.8 AS: That's up. So I appreciate all the wonderful work you're doing, your passion to sort of bring that to all of us in a way that we can understand, feel empowered and feel welcomed in the process and very grateful for you and all your work. Gina, thanks so much for being here today.
0:46:06.1 GS: Thanks so much, Audrey. This was a blast and I just am very grateful for you and the opportunity to be here today.
0:46:13.4 AS: And thank you all for joining us for Think. Pair. Share. If you enjoyed this episode, head on over to Apple podcasts to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. It's very much appreciated. Check out our website @iei.nd.edu forward/media for this and other goodies. Thanks for listening. And for now, off we go.