This week on the the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer the College of Engineer’s associate dean for students, Lisa Pruitt, joins us to talk about the fall semester, resilience, self-care and more.
LAURA VOGT: Hello and welcome to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. My name is Laura Vogt, I’m the associate director from marketing and communications for the College of Engineering and your podcast host. This week we have Lisa Pruitt, the associate dean for students in the College of Engineering. Hi Lisa, welcome to the podcast.
LISA PRUITT: Hi Laura. Thanks for having me.
LV: As the associate dean for students, can you tell us more about what your role is in Engineering Student Services and the College of Engineering as a whole.
LP: Absolutely. So my role as the associate dean for students, really is to create the best possible experience for our students in the College of Engineering. So that there’s this sense of community, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, how we’re going to step out in the world as engineers, how we serve society. And so part of that is community building, making sure that students have all the resources they need for success here. And my job really is to have oversight of all those mechanisms.
LV: And you’ve actually been in the College of Engineering for a while now doing other roles as well too, right?
LP: That’s correct. I’ve been in the College of Engineering for twenty seven years, I like to joke that I got recruited straight out of kindergarten… So I was hired in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. I’m also appointed in the Department of Bioengineering. My research is in the realm of medical devices. And so with that I had a longstanding purview of collaborative research spanning over to UCSF as well. I’ve been in the role of vice chair in mechanical engineering in charge of the graduate program. I’ve been our equity and inclusion officer. I’ve served on multiple committees across the campus. So I think I’ve a pretty good sense of how things operate on the campus and college level.
LV: Oh that’s awesome. Thank you again so much for being with us today. And I know last year, in your first year as the associate dean for students, that you really tried to make yourself accessible and you had walks with students where they could contact you. Do you have any plans for being able to continue that over the summer or in the fall?
LP: So I think in the realm of COVID, the likelihood that I’m going to do the in-person walks in the fall really just remains uncertain given where we are with health requirements. But what I did last fall, and I think it worked well and I do intend to pick it up again, is we would do these walks. And I would meet over at the Engineering Student Services once a week and students could just join up and we would walk essentially the outer perimeter of the campus through the redwoods and students could just come and get some exercise. They could come and talk about maybe goals that they had or just life on campus. And I think it was really well received. So my intention is to re-engage with that when it makes sense to do so. And I would welcome people to join in for a nice leisurely stroll. Whether that be physically distant or however we’re doing things at that time.
LV: I know that this coming fall is going to be significantly different than what our new freshmen and transfer students have been hearing about or imagining when they applied back in November. And I know that our priority at Berkeley is going to be the health and safety of our campus community. So with that said, knowing as we go into this upcoming semester, what can we share with students about what we’re expecting from classes and the planning that’s coming up?
LP: So what I can say is this, we are in a great realm of uncertainty and what we do know is this: We are committed to creating the very best experience that we can for our students, in creating that community and elements of that will be done in an online setting, a remote setting and then aspects of it, where possible, will be done in physically distant and health conscious spaces. So what I can share with you Laura, is that faculty are working very hard over the summer to really think about how we deliver our courses given us an unprecedented set of circumstances. And so a lot of us are thinking about- Well, I’m going to teach my course that’s project based and it’s online. How am I going to do that? And for me that is not just about how do I deliver these things in Zoom or our bCourse online platform but also like what are the up charges, where are the silver linings in all this? So for me one example of that is I can bring in guest speakers from anywhere I want now. And so we’re thinking about ways I can engage some of the guest speakers in my medical device course for which I could have a surgeon who’s in Nevada and in private practice who can still Zoom in with us and share his insight on orthopedic surgery, show us some surgeries, and actually have some supplemental pieces which might have maybe been different had we’ve been in person. I’m even going to have a guest speaker from the East Coast who can join in and then I’m going to reciprocate that. So I’m going to go and give a guest lecture at an East Coast institution. So I’m also looking for what are the ways that we can do this and we can flip the classroom. We can have some parts being viewed in advance and then we can have the students come in and use that time to have more discussion conversation points with some of our speakers. I think lots of opportunities to be creative in our pedagogy and the College has put resources into faculty spending time over the summer to think through these things, like how do we rise above given these challenges and still deliver a really robust and engaging curriculum.
LV: I know the campus right now is working on the back end part of what that’s going to look like, so that when students look at their classes on classes.berkeley.edu it’ll reflect how the classes are going to be taught to them correct?
LP: That’s right. And so we have to distinguish different types of classes, so there will be a certain number of smaller classes that can have an in-person, physically distanced, safe classroom setting. Those are being sorted out right now. How that will look, where those will be placed. And then there will be which of our online classes will be available. And so this is a difference between online courses and a remote course. An online course by definition would be a course that was developed to be delivered online. So right from the beginning, everything was put into play with the presumption that people would be joining in via their computer. And then we have courses that are remote. They were designed initially to be done in person and they are being re-evaluated and retooled to be delivered in this platform where we come through Zoom where we come through bCourses and we make use of other mechanisms. In addition we have to think about synchronous versus asynchronous. So if we as example, I’m teaching a medical device course that’s cross listed between bioengineering and mechanical engineering. It was designed to be in person. It’s a project based course. It will continue to be project based but it will be offered remote. For me it will be synchronous in the sense that I will keep the original assigned time, like I was going to teach it 12:40-2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I’m going to keep that time slot. And I think for a lot of students there’s some merit to that. That I check in at that time and that’s when I can ask live questions in a lecture setting. I will record that and post it, so it’s still available to someone that might be outside of our time zone, that is unable to participate in that setting of being live in the 12:40-2pm slot. They can access it at any time that’s convenient to them.
So part of synchronous versus asynchronous is just that piece of are you joining in live or is it prerecorded and is posted and you look at it and then there’s other elements. And that being said there’s a very complicated machinery, we have discussions… We’re thinking about should some of those discussions be asynchronous and other sections synchronous. Might some be offered in time zones if we have international students. For a big class might we possibly have a discussion that’s actually on that time zone. So what I do want to share with students is that we are actively working on this over the summer to try to deliver the very best curriculum that we possibly can.
LV: Excellent. Thank you so much. And I really appreciate the details of going into what the process is to change this over from an in-person class into something that’s going to be different. I feel like the students, especially the students that were there last semester, as we move forward, but this idea of resilience. How you’re going to need to keep pushing forward and moving on and asking questions. Do you have any ideas of how students can be more resilient or a way to get support?
LP: I think a few answers to that. One is that there will be lots of mechanisms for support. We still have emotional support built into the College. So we have psychological services that will remain accessible for both our undergrads and grads. And even in an online setting, that remains. For our advising we have online opportunities to meet with advisers. We’ll have online tutoring, we’ll have online support, or remote support that’s accessible. And again, what parts can be done in person really will depend on what the health regulations are around physical distancing and the density allowance for people in buildings. One of things that I shared with a number of students just who’ve been with us in this transition and even over the summer, I continue to meet with students. Part of this is your own well-being right. Like getting into a routine. I think when you have in-person classes it’s easy to have your schedule. You pack up your things for the day, you make your plan of how you’re going to go have your class in Dwinelle Hall and then you’re going to have your next class, set for a 10 minute walk across our beautiful campus, in the next one may be a crossover in Etcheverry Hall and so on and so forth. So the challenge in this time is how do I maintain some type of regularity and normalcy. And so I think that the biggest piece of that, and I think most of us all of us have to have a huge adjustment last last semester, is how do you set up a routine for yourself that feels as though I have a mechanism for well-being, and I have a mechanism for how I’m going to accomplish things in the day. I just want to say upfront Laura that wellness is such an important piece like having a routine of when I’m going to go and get a quality level of sleep and still going to get exercise, I’m still going to eat good meals, and I’m going to dedicate time for those to happen. So it may be that this is also an opportunity for everyone to think about – what does a day look like for me? Not just when my courses are but what’s my routine so that this feels as though something I can engage with and have a sense of what feels normal during these uncertain times.
LV: We’ve talked about how one of the things that you want to do is build a community. Do you have any ideas of how students can work on building that community since we’ll not necessarily be on campus?
LP: So obviously we still have lots of groups that are active. So we’ve got student groups and so those groups will still be engaging and we can have students involved and meet these groups. If you’re an incoming student you’re going to have our Golden Bear Orientation, you’re going to learn about all these things that are coming your way. We’re about to launch a NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program, more will be coming soon, so they’ll still be all of these robust and engaging ways to become part of the College of Engineering community. I’m working with the Wellness Group. Last year we did our first Berkeley Bear Run. And I’ve been actively engaged with how we have fun and engage with the community? What are ways that we can do that? I know the Wellness Group right now is thinking about what are the activities we can do making use of our Zoom platform, making use of some of the social media. So I think I think students are going to find that there’s still many ways to become part of our community and that it will unfold in a very positive way.
LV: Given the Black Lives Matter movement can you tell me more about what the College of Engineering is doing to address diversity within the College?
LP: First I just want to say that our dean Tsu-Jae King Lui has done a remarkable job of bringing equity and inclusion into the College of Engineering in a deep and robust way. We have another associate dean devoted, so that’s Kara Nelson, and she’s devoted to building programs on equity and inclusion. We’re creating interactive theaters to try to create essentially an understanding of ways to create an inclusive and belonging culture. How do we have an inclusive classroom, how do we make sure that student groups encourage belonging and equity in inclusivity. So what I can say is that the College has put an immense amount of its resources and time and emphasis on making sure that students feel that they belong, and that they are included, and that our classrooms are equitable.
LV: If students have something where they want to be able to talk to someone about that is there anyone in particular that would be good for them to reach out to or a couple of people that they could reach out to?
LP: Lots of people you can reach out to. So there is associate dean Nelson for equity and inclusion but also just I’m going to roll back to say Engineering Student Services. We have Marvin Lopez, you’ve got Tiffany Reardon. We have the whole ESS advising team. So just in the ESS structure, we got lots of people that students can always reach out to. Every department also has an equity and inclusion officer. And so there’s always someone in the department that any student can always reach out to. Certainly myself but I think you’re going to find that there will be lots of people that students can easily reach out to for any type of support that they need.
LV: Why don’t we talk a little bit more about the different people on campus that our students can go and visit with and talk with, starting with our ESS advisers.
LP: Absolutely. And you know the ESS advisers just an immense amount of knowledge, not only about the curriculum and the courses and the way things work on the campus. They can be a great resource of just getting good life advice and the nice thing about these online opportunities is you don’t have a walk across campus to see them. You can just find a slot and check in. And again, I think don’t hesitate to check in and make a commitment to yourself that I am going to check in with my academic adviser and I am going to check in with the faculty who teach my courses and I’m going to get to know them a little bit better.
LV: Let’s talk about the faculty hours that we’re going to have for fall.
LP: That faculty hours will be done via Zoom. Typically in every department we have a student services office and they will be on their websites for each individual department and also you’re going to want to find the office hours for your faculty that teach courses and make use of those. But you’re going to find that every faculty member has posted set of office hours and in a traditional year or traditional semester, you would go seek that person out in their physical office and those would be dedicated to students dropping by. I would say that that’s one of the most underutilized mechanisms of actually reaching out to faculty. I am not sure why that is, whether students feel awkward or students feel that the faculty are busy, but those are your hours. Those are hours that are devoted to having whatever type of conversation. Sometimes its life advice, what it’s like to be in this field of mechanical engineering or civil engineering. Can I talk to you? You could come reach out to a faculty on a weekly basis. What’s going to happen in the fall is that they will move to Zoom. And that being said there will probably be general office hours, for which there will be a Zoom room and you can join in. I’m going to say that almost every faculty member has equally accessible mechanisms for which you can say – can I reach out and find time to meet with you one on one in a different platform? I think office hours are going to shift a little bit in the fall, just because of our physical distancing requirements, but they will be there and they’re a great resource that students should really think about getting to know their faculty. You’re going to find your whole experience on the campus will be greatly improved as you get to know the faculty.
LV: Do you have any messages or anything that you would want to leave with students, our new freshmen and our new transfers that our podcast is going out to, for their upcoming Fall semester?
LP: I think one of the things you had asked me about earlier was resilience. What I want to say is this. Those of you who are coming in this class and joining us in the fall of 2020, you’ve come through a remarkable time, we’ve gone through a global pandemic, are still in the midst of a global pandemic. We’re seeing realms of social injustice and yet within all that, great opportunity for change. And so I think one of the things I really want to say is empower yourselves to be the agents of change. Come in, get the mastery, know that we are a campus committed to social good and social justice. And Berkeley unlike any other campus is committed to taking our knowledge and bringing it out to serve society and just become a part of that. And so I think you already have remarkable resilience by the very fact that you’re here and continue to bolster those skills and I think you’re going to find that as you matriculate through our curriculum you’re going to become even more resilient and you’ll be empowered to do anything you choose to do. That’s my word of welcome.
LV: The faculty and staff are here…
LP: …to support you through this whole journey.
LV: Well, thank you so much for coming in and talking to us today.
LP: Thank you Laura. It’s always a pleasure.
LV: And thank you everyone for tuning in to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer, I look forward to podcasting with you next week. Bye.