Cristián Vargas-Ordóñez, Purdue University, The US
The ASEE 2023 conference in Baltimore, MD, marked a significant milestone in my Ph.D. journey, instilling in me a newfound sense of professional capability and ambition. Being a fifth-year Ph.D. student in Engineering Education, this event held particular significance, as it was only my second in-person conference since the pandemic had disrupted the academic world. The transition from online connections to real-world engagement was overwhelming, especially as a first-generation and English as Second Language (ESL), and international professional and researcher from Colombia in the U.S.. My initial foray into in-person conferences left me contemplating the profound impact of the absence of physical academic connections in my academic voyage. However, with my second in-person experience, I felt more at ease and learned the ropes of how these conferences operate. In this blog, I will share my personal journey at ASEE 2023 and provide valuable recommendations for fellow novice engineering education researchers who are just beginning to navigate the world of academic conferences.
Day 1 – Sunday, June 25th
On the first day, I had the honor of co-leading a workshop alongside my colleagues, Tiantian (Olivia) Li and Siqing Wei. The workshop focused on the co-creation of an outline for a handbook designed to guide faculty, staff, and international graduate students in supporting the thriving of the former group. Our utilization of the Funds of Identity framework led to thoughtful and reflective outcomes, advancing on advocating for international graduate students wellbeing in the U.S. I was particularly motivated by the genuine interest of the attendees in our work. In the afternoon, I participated in the Division Mixer, representing the ASEE Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as representative of the Multidisciplinary Engineering Division. This experience reinforced my commitment to the work of promoting diversity and inclusion in engineering education research.
Day 2 – Monday, June 26th
Day 2 was marked by a series of memorable events. I presented a poster for the paper titled “Assessing Students’ Perspectives and Attitudes Toward Social Justice and Compassion in Civil Engineering (Work in Progress),” which is a collaborative project with Professors Marika Santagata and David Yu from the Lyles School of Engineering Education. The project sought to understand students’ perceptions regarding social justice and compassion. In the afternoon, I was part of a panel discussion on “Success in Engineering Education,” hosted by the Saint Vicent College, where I learned about various approaches taken by different schools in this field. Finally, I attended the business meeting of the Multidisciplinary Engineering Education Division and presented my progress as a delegate to the ASEE Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Day 3 – Tuesday, June 27th
On the third day of the conference, I had the privilege of presenting our compelling work in progress, titled “Understanding International and Domestic Graduate Engineering Students’ Well-being: What They Need to Thrive?” I collaborated with Alejandro Baquero-Sierra from the College of Education and Stephen McBride and Jacqueline McDermott, Ph.D., the College of Engineering as co-authors. The reception was truly exceptional, as we received valuable feedback and witnessed an influx of new ideas that will undoubtedly shape the future directions of our research.
Day 4 – Wednesday, June 28th
During Day 4 at the conference, I found a unique platform to engage with K-12 educators. This opportunity allowed me to share some advancements in my research, a project that delves into the intersection of the arts and engineering. The focal point of my presentation was a captivating shadow puppetry activity, carefully designed to foster the concept of epistemic justice. As I presented my work, it was inspiring to witness the enthusiastic response from educators who recognized the potential of this innovative approach in enhancing learning experiences and promoting equitable access to knowledge. This interaction underscored the vital connection between the realms of arts and engineering and reinforced my commitment to pushing the boundaries of educational practices.
Before attending ASEE 2023, I had certain expectations. I anticipated networking opportunities and the chance to build a community of practice. I looked forward to the interchange of ideas and learning from experts in the field. To my delight, the conference not only met but exceeded my expectations in numerous ways. Throughout the event, I had the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and engage in meaningful dialogues that left me feeling inspired. More than merely networking, I found my niche within the EER community, a revelation that ignited a new sense of purpose in my academic journey. The conference served as a platform for me to explore fresh perspectives and envision the untapped potential for advancing my work. It was an invaluable opportunity to test my ideas and receive constructive feedback from my peers.
However, I also recognized that in my eagerness to make up for lost time during the pandemic, I had overloaded myself with work. This realization is a crucial lesson, and I understand the need to strike a better work-life balance in the coming year. Nevertheless, ASEE 2023 was a transformative experience that reinvigorated my academic journey and expanded my horizons.
Recommendations and Future Expectations
For fellow researchers in Engineering Education Research, I offer the following recommendations:
- Pre-Conference Strategy: Carefully select the relevant divisions for your research and explore the roles they offer. Keep an eye on deadlines for abstracts, drafts, and final submissions. Remember, you don’t need to submit every year.
- Make a Plan: Outline your objectives and goals before traveling, ensuring you make the most of your time there.
- Embrace a Learning Mindset: Once in the conference, approach every interaction as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Keep your mind open to new ideas and fresh perspectives.
- Build Genuine Connections: Forge connections with fellow attendees based on a foundation of care and genuine interest, not just for utilitarian purposes.
- Respect Diverse Perspectives: Encourage a culture of open dialogue and inclusivity by respecting and valuing differing viewpoints. Embrace the diversity of thought that conferences bring to the table.
- Seek Sage Advice: Don’t hesitate to reach out to experienced scholars for guidance and insights, both in the lead-up to the conference and during the event. Their wealth of experience can be invaluable.
- Relax and Recharge: Conferences can be exhilarating, yet also overwhelming. Make it a point to take breaks and prioritize your well-being throughout the event. Choose social meetings of your interests. Each division hosts one and they are a good opportunity to relax and know good people.
As you conclude your conference experience, take a moment for reflection. Dive into the wealth of knowledge, connections, and inspiration you have gathered during this event. Reflect on the fresh perspectives that have broadened your horizons, the innovative ideas that have ignited your curiosity, and the profound conversations that have enriched your understanding. Consider how the conference has shaped your approach to research and ponder how the knowledge you have acquired and the relationships you have nurtured can be seamlessly integrated into your ongoing academic journey.
Lastly, but certainly not least, savor every step of this process. Recognize the hard work and dedication that have brought you to this point. You have earned this experience, and it is an essential part of your academic growth. Here’s to your continued success, and I look forward to potentially crossing paths with you in Portland next year.