Introducing the New IDEA Faculty Development Fellow: A (somewhat surprising) Interview with Sean Garrick

Sean Garrick Photo

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

There are three things you should know about Sean Garrick, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and incoming Faculty Development Fellow for the Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA). Some of them might surprise you.

  1. He once wanted to be a writer or a poet (and still kind of does).
  2. He wasn’t always good at math.
  3. He credits his academic success to a couple of wonderful mentors and a smart sister.

Garrick has an incredible understanding of fluid physics and computational fluid mechanics. And he truly enjoys his work. He recalls exactly the class he was in when he “fell in love with fluid physics.” It was in his first fluid physics class in his junior year of college. This, and the course he later took in Computational Fluid Mechanics, amazed Garrick. And he was hooked.

Given his love of engineering, it’s not surprising Garrick was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study the effects of fluid turbulence on atmospheric aerosols. He is looking forward to working with an elite group of scientists in Finland.

It might surprise you however to learn Garrick started out as an English major. He loves poetry and essays about the human condition. “My dream job was to be able to write those things.” He still seems a bit wistful when he talks about it.

But by his second year of college he came to believe his enjoyment of science and technology made engineering a better fit for his career pursuits. “I just really enjoyed it – looking at theory and the fact you can combine mathematics and programing and see these wonderful things.”

As a gifted engineer you might assume Garrick has always been good at math and science. “That’s not really true,” he says. He actually struggled with learning algebra in ninth grade. With obvious fondness he recounts how his older sister spent hours tutoring him everyday after school. She stuck with him until something just clicked.

Once he got it – math wasn’t a problem for Garrick again. In the dedication for his Ph.D. he said, “This is to my sister, who taught me all the math I ever needed to know.”

Garrick’s attributes his love of science and technology and his ultimate success as an academic to the influence of two mentors: Associate Professor Ching–Shi Liu at SUNY Buffalo and Professor Peyman Givi, currently with the University of Pittsburgh.

Between them, Garrick says these two taught him how to work harder than he thought was possible, and how to be a professional. Working with Givi as a graduate student “was like a finishing school,” he says. “It was a fantastic environment to be in.”

He also credits Liu with encouraging him to give back by being a role model and helping others. “He knew I was very passionate about working with other people. He led me down the road of making sure I did something for the betterment of society.” This goal still guides all of Garrick’s work.

As the incoming Faculty Development Fellow for IDEA, Garrick looks forward to finding ways to support faculty and help them advance. But he’s aware there are many challenges.

Relevance is essential. “How do you come up with the right mix of programs that will be useful for a significant number of our population?” Garrick starts by asking them. He is connecting with faculty from other parts of the University to learn about what challenges they’re facing and what they need.

He’s aware his experience is different from faculty in other disciplines and their challenges are also different. “I think we have to be careful in thinking every story is like our own.” Talking with colleagues provides insights to help shape programming.

A sense of community is also important. Within a single department or unit, the number of underrepresented faculty may be very small. But not when added up across campuses. Garrick feels if underrepresented faculty were more aware of their colleagues at the U, they could build a stronger community.

“You don’t need to be working on the same thing because these are our colleagues. These are our resources that we can all utilize to help improve our sense of community.”

Garrick points to a story from his own experience about how he came to collaborate on a proposal with Jigna Desai from Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies (GWSS).

“What would someone from GWSS and Mechanical Engineering have in common, subject-matter wise? Nothing.” Not true. He met Desai while working together on a committee and learned they share an interest in getting more underrepresented students into STEM.

“The more you bring people together, the more their commonalities become apparent and the more they can find solutions.”

Time is another challenge in bringing faculty members together. Faculty are very busy. So it’s difficult to find the right time to schedule things. “This sounds like a small thing but you have to make sure that a significant number of the folks who would like to be there, you’d like to be sure they can make it.”

In addition to helping faculty who are already here, Garrick wants to help our potential faculty: Ph.D. students and postdocs. He’s working on a plan to provide learning opportunities and insights on academia for these underrepresented students. “This informs the path they choose.”

He has more ideas he hopes will “contribute to deepening, furthering and broadening the pipeline . . . ensuring we have enough faculty from underrepresented groups at the U.”

This is just the beginning.

What excites Garrick about this new role as IDEA Faculty Development Fellow? “I don’t think you have an option but to be excited because the need is so great.”

“I really love this university. This is an outstanding university . . . [but] to a certain degree the absence of underrepresented students and faculty, to me it’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled. And I think I can help do that.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2016]

The Paths of Greater Resistance: An Interview with Zenzele Isoke

Zenzele Isoke

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Simply stated, associate professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, Zenzele Isoke researches resistance.

More specifically, Isoke is “looking at the multiple ways that black women create political spaces in cities, to enable different forms of resistance.”

The Oxford dictionary defines resistance as “the refusal to accept or comply with something.” Isoke explores the many ways in which black women ‘refuse to accept or comply with’ the status quo of racial, gender and sexual subordination in cities.

Over time, and in different places, black women have come together to “reconfigure the meaning and practice of the city for black people.” Using the arts, spoken word, educational programs and other activities, they organize and reshape their communities.

In her book, Urban Black Women and Politics of Resistance (2012), Isoke examined several of the different forms of resistance black women have used to re-imagine their communities:

  • Political Homemaking – These are forms of “community mothering” such as re-Urban Black Women and the Politics of Resistance - book covertelling histories in public forums, and using words to re-configure black people’s understanding and practice of living in cities.
  • Activism and the LGBT community – These groups have come together to challenge extreme forms of social violence, especially the premature deaths of black people.
  • Hip-Hop Politics – Black women use hip-hop feminism to create connection across difference among black communities and communities of color. Hip-hop provides a means of coming together and documenting the forms of violence committed against black people.

Although black women have been effecting change in their communities for a very long time, their resistance has not always been recognized as political activism. Isoke tells us that “a lot of black female agency has been ignored or seen as ‘behind the scenes‘ work”.

Black women’s resistances evolve over time, as needed. “These are short lived assemblages” says Isoke, “in which they come together, they challenge an issue, work together for a period of time, and retreat back.”

“Whether it’s a movie night, a clothing exchange, a rant fest, or poetry,” Isoke explains, “they come together and re-emerge in different places. So it actually changes across their life span. You have black women coming together across multiple differences to create different forms of political spaces all the time within cities.”

Isoke is interested in these histories and all the ways in which black women do this work. But she sees that these efforts are often ignored or devalued.

So it is important for black women to find ways to come together, as she says, “to provide affirmation of each other’s political efficacy, leadership potential and each other’s ‘being-ness’”.

“A lot of it has to do with the way black women see ourselves. Being able to see ourselves as creative, to see ourselves as artists, being able to see ourselves as intellectuals.”

Coming together in support of one another helps to reaffirm black women’s efforts in this work. However, it is also, says Isoke, “an important part of the way black people are able to survive the onslaught of racism, racial terrorism and gender violence that our lives are marked by.”

As a part of understanding how black women work towards change in cities, Isoke is seeking to more fully understand the differences in black identity for women.

“Whether in the US or elsewhere, what does ‘blackness’ mean,” she asks, “when they evoke ‘blackness’ as a way to make sense of their resistance?”

For example, Isoke described how the Twin Cities has people from many different places who identify as black. These include people from Somalia, Ethiopia and parts of the US who are “all coming together and recreating blackness. It has a different meaning [here] than in, say, Newark.”

Exploring these differences further, Isoke has talked with hip-hop producers, MCs and spoken word artists in Dubai to learn what blackness means to them.

She wanted to understand how participating in hip-hop as a cultural form allows the women in Dubai “to articulate new meanings and properties of blackness.”

There are women in Dubai who are Palestinian, Sudanese, Algerian, and Emirate people. Although they all identify with blackness, they are all very different.

Isoke examines how hip-hop brings these women together to communicate and explore what blackness means for them. Hip-hop provides a way of communicating across differences and a channel for sharing themes of resistance.

“This type of scholarship provides young people, particularly people of color, a pathway in which they can also find their voice and find their meaning in relation to academia, and the larger world.”

It’s taking time but these efforts are making a difference. “Black women need to understand the ways in which our political and cultural work is actually changing and having a tangible and observable impact on urban spaces.”

When asked what she feels the impact of this work has been for these communities, Isoke has a powerful answer:

“The observable impact comes from folks who manage to overcome the really ‘death-dealing’ consequences of racism in their community.” She sites the police violence, institutionalized bias in the educational institutions, “you know, the school to prison pipeline.”

“It’s the folks who managed to come out of urban spaces and were able to create a different kind of life for themselves by being politically and civically engaged. That’s where the impact comes, for me.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2016]

Living Our Own Story: An Interview with Moin Syed

Moin Syed

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

There is an old, familiar saying, “we are the hero of our own story” (Mary McCarthy). But what if our story was written with someone else in the lead role?

Professor Moin Syed, from the Department of Psychology, knows that the script for our story has already been written for us. He is researching a concept called the Master Narrative, which is particularly powerful in American culture.

“The American dream: success through hard work, determination, going to school, going to college, choosing a major, getting a career, getting married, having a child, buying a house – that’s a Master Narrative. It’s a script that tells us how to live our life.”

Syed tells us that we adopt the story and these plans unconsciously making them our own. We compare our life against the script, usually without even noticing we are doing so. For most of us, the Master Narrative is a pretty good story line to follow. But what if we don’t fit the plan? What if we don’t want to follow this script?

If you don’t fit the Master Narrative, it becomes a challenge for you. Syed explains, “There are all these societal level attitudes and belief structures that we as individuals have to interact with.” There is an expectation of what being an American is. There is even “an idea about what a prototypically American looks like and what a foreigner looks like”.

People who are different from this image spark curiosity. It can be as simple as having what is perceived to be an unusual, “foreign-sounding” name. But always being asked about their background can be unsettling. It repeatedly sets them apart as “other.”

Syed knows first hand what this is like. He is often asked where he is from. He says that when he “answers ‘California’, they say, ‘where do you really come from?’ The implication is that you are not really an American.” Syed tells us this is referred to as “Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome.”

Referencing the Erika Lee profile (October 2015), Syed recalls how her family has been here for generations. But, he says, “I assume they still get that question, and often from people whose ancestors came here more recently.”

“Curiosity seems innocent but can sometimes not be perceived that way.” Syed tells us that “It’s an unconscious form of prejudice. . . They don’t understand why the person takes offense to such an innocent question.” People think the victim is being too sensitive, too politically correct. But Syed explains, “the perpetrator doesn’t understand that the target goes through this all the time.” They’re continually being reminded that they don’t fit the script.

Being out of step with the Master Narrative also means that you have to repeatedly find your place. Syed tells us that every time people change contexts — for example from home to high school and then on to college, etc. — they need to adjust to the new expectations. Being different from the expected image makes this process harder.

There are also a lot of conflicts that arise about attitudes towards cultural heritage and the difference between these and mainstream American culture, especially for kids from immigrant families. These kids have to find their way between sometimes-conflicting expectations.

“It leads to differences of opinion between parents and children about what the child should be doing. So this is really an identity issue.” Syed adds that, “If they are experiencing family conflict, they are doing more poorly in class,” which he says, “is not surprising.”

“If you look at the entire population of college students in this country, 75% of them could be considered non-traditional in some way. Our idea of a non-traditional college student has changed. The 18-22 year old, living on campus, white, middle class, that’s a very small percentage now. Our college students aren’t getting more diverse, they’ve been more diverse for a long time. There are a lot of people who come from poverty. They’re underrepresented, but they’re here.”

Cross discipline efforts are needed to more fully understand our students and to find the best ways to educate them. Syed wonders, “How do we teach about intercultural, interracial relations? How do we teach about our own history?” He reminds us how Erika Lee didn’t learn about her family’s part in American history, until she was in college.

“The purpose of grand challenges is to bring people from different disciplines and perspectives together, but this still relies on getting them together.” Interdisciplinary work is especially difficult, he explains, because of very different ways of thinking.

As an example Syed looks at how psychologists and sociologists are talking about the same things, but from different types of analysis. “When you can’t even agree on what constitutes evidence, it becomes very difficult to solve grand challenges.” But he and his colleagues are trying to bring some of these different disciplines together, “a little more.”

Syed is excited about a new project he is working on in collaboration with Colin DeYoung in psychology and Valerie Tiberius in philosophy. This work is focused on the development of virtue and on personality development. “One of my really passionate interests is trying to understand the different pathways of college students . . . different ways in which they try to figure out how to make a good life.”

He wonders “How do college students develop the best way they can, opposing that idea that there is one path and one way, or that there is a good way and a bad way?”

Part of the answer, he believes, is that we need to find a way to “support students from diverse backgrounds to have positive experiences and to feel that the way they are doing college is an okay way to do college too.” Recognizing that “There are many different definitions and different cultural definitions of what a good life is.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2015]

The Strength of Family: An Interview With Priscilla Gibson

Priscilla Gibson photograph

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Kinship care is about family helping family. When children are raised by family members, other than their parents, it’s called kinship care. Dr. Priscilla Gibson, a professor in the School of Social Work, tells us kinship care has been done informally in the African American culture for centuries. “My mother was raised by her grandmother, so I am from a family that did kinship care. We didn’t have a name for it, we just did it.”

Gibson feels the public’s understanding of African American culture has not often been about its strengths. “Yes,” she acknowledges, “there are lots of issues and problems but there are also strengths.” Kinship care is one of these strengths.

Even when other desirable options are available, affluent African American families have chosen kinship care for their children. One example Gibson has studied is the care provided by Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson. Through her research Gibson learned that for the Obamas, the advantages were clear.

Mrs. Robinson had concerns about raising her granddaughters in the White House. Are they missing something about African American culture, or about their FAMILY culture, that they need to know? She provides that connection for them, and cares for them as only their grandmother can.

Unlike the Obamas, most African American grandmothers providing kinship care have very few options. They step in when parents can’t care for their children due to drug abuse or other issues. “They go on emotions”, says Gibson. “They overwhelmingly do not want their grandchildren in the foster care system, with strangers.” It’s important to them that these children are cared for by a family member.

And it’s not easy. Typically these grandmothers are older, have low incomes and often have health issues. They’re doing the best they can to raise their grandchildren, but they often need resources to maintain the caregiving arrangement. However, when these grandmothers encounter the Child Protection System, things become even more difficult due to the many rules and regulations.

This system can be hard to navigate. Plus it’s designed to work with paid foster care providers, who are trained by the system. Gibson asks, “How do we train this person [a grandmother who already has a relationship with the child] and how do we assess what they may have been doing with their children and grandchildren that doesn’t work?” The system needs to adapt in order to better facilitate this type of care.

While working with grandmothers providing kinship care, Gibson found another issue, out of school suspensions “kept coming up”. African American students living in out of home placement represent one of the highest groups in out of school suspensions.

The challenges these grandmothers face with the education system moved Gibson to explore grandmothers’ experiences and later, the experiences of students, educators and caregivers. In this latter study, she worked with a team of researchers who found that the lack of a functional caregiver-educator relationship was a significant barrier.

Gibson’s paper, “Enough is Enough: Grandmothers’ strategies for mitigating out-of-school suspensions for African American youth” (Gibson & McGlynn, 2013) came from this research. She reports that children in kinship care have often experienced neglect or abuse, prior to living under their grandmother’s care. This increases the instances of behavior problems at school.

Person holding a sign that says "Education not Incarceration"

From the 2014 Kirwan Institute study

A U.S. Department of Education report (2014) tells us that black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. A research study by the Kirwan Institute (2014) shows clear evidence of bias in these situations. Black students are being suspended for behaviors that are excused for white students. This cycle begins in elementary school.

Education is vitally important for these children’s lives. Gibson knows education “is the only way parents can get their kids to move up economically.” So we need to end the cycle of out of school suspensions in order to educate these kids.

“I get really concerned about the blaming,” she adds. Blaming doesn’t help. “Schools ought to recognize grandparents in similar ways as they do parents.” Gibson also feels that, “Teachers and grandparents would benefit from discontinuing the cycle of blame and work together to avoid out of school suspensions.”

There is a lot that can be done to help these children. But first, Gibson tells us, “Empathy and forgiveness and problem-solving are needed.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2015]

Revealing Unknown History: An Interview with Erika Lee

Erica Lee photo

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

When people learn that U of M professor Erika Lee (@prof_erikalee) teaches history, they often tell her they are “history buffs.” Professor Lee is not a history buff.

“That’s not the kind of history I do.” She explains, “I am not interested in just factual narration or memorization of little ‘tidbits’ of our past. I AM interested in asking the hard questions – how does the past connect with what’s going on today?”

Immigrant StoriesIn addition to being a professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts, Lee helped to found the Asian American Studies Program in 2004 and has served as the Director of the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) since 2012.

Raised and educated in California, she describes herself as a “Chinese American, 3rd or 6th generation, depending on how you count.” You’d expect her to have known a lot growing up, about the history of Asian Americans. She was shocked to learn how little she knew.

Lee remembers sitting in an undergraduate history class at UC Berkley. The professor was talking about the anti-Chinese movement, a time when Americans were greatly divided over Chinese immigration. Debates eroded into violence against Asian Americans, national condemnation of Chinese immigration, and expulsion of Chinese people from cities. This eventually led to a ban on Chinese immigration.

As her instructor spoke, Lee sat there thinking, “I have never heard this, [not even] within my family. I’m a history major. How come this is the first time I’m hearing this?”

“It made me realize the way we teach American history . . . really glosses things over and leaves things out.” Lee works to share the unknown stories from our past so that the next generation of Asian Americans will know about their part in history.

Asian America has grown dramatically in the past 50 years and become much more diverse. Lee tells us “there are [now] 24 different ethnicities under the Asian, Pacific American umbrella.” She wonders, “How does old Asian America and new Asian America fit together? . . . Where do they fit into a changing America?”

Lee attempts to reveal this unknown history and connect it to global history, slavery, and western Book cover for "The Making of Asian America: A History"expansion. In her new book, The Making of Asian America: A History, Lee connects the issues of the past and present into a wider perspective.

“When we think about immigration history, 2 words come to mind . . . Ellis Island.” Few Americans are aware of Angel Island, an immigration station off the California coast that processed nearly 1 million Asian immigrants between 1910-1940. A great many immigrants came from Europe, through Ellis Island. However Lee feels, “Our mission is to look at the broad diversity of immigration past and present.” And how immigration has shaped America.

Immigration has also transformed Minnesota. First settled by Swedes, Norwegians and German immigrants, we now see a huge change. Lee tells us “We actually have a larger population of refugees, compared to other states. We have the largest Hmong and Somali populations here . . . sometimes the largest populations outside of the homeland country.”

Each immigrant group is interested in their own experiences, Lee finds, and usually only their own experiences. But she feels that it’s “by making these comparisons about similarities and differences across groups and over time, that we can better understand the role of immigration in making the United States . . . and our on-going complicated relationships.”

October 2015 marks 50 years since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This act is still being debated. Lee is familiar with the concerns: “Was it a landmark move towards civil rights law? Or was it a law that helps explain how we still have an undocumented immigration situation today?”

Discussion of immigration raises some divisive questions, “Who is included? Who’s excluded? Who do we let in and who is a threat? Do they assimilate? Are they a benefit to the economy or a drain?”

Lee also reminds us that throughout history there have been those who have tried to “raise the specter of immigrant menace.” We still see this today. However, “History shows us that those xenophobes were out of step – not representing the true spirit of America.”

“Historical perspective is needed to better understand the roots of where we are now and . . . how do we fix some of these issues?” Lee feels it’s in “… looking at the between-ness” that you’re able to see the full picture.

[Header photo credit: Amelie Hyams]