What was your last position?
I was the Director of Writing & Senior Professor of Practice at Tulane University. I taught first-year writing as well as advanced courses in the Science Communication program and in the School of Architecture.
Why are communication skills so important for engineers?
Engineers in the workplace spend nearly two-thirds of their time communicating their ideas (Sageev and Romanowski, 2001). In all the work that engineers do—designing machines, constructing buildings, coding applications, etc—they have to convey ideas to others. So, I teach my students to analyze different communication situations, to consider the needs of their audiences, and to design documents that are accessible, reasonable, and persuasive. After all, STEM helps us explain the world, but we need communication to explain STEM.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of teaching is working with students to create accessible classrooms. Teaching must be accessible in order for students to learn. So, I collaborate with students to develop innovative resources and assignments that foster long-term learning. For example, students in my courses design their own communication textbook as the culminating class project. Over the semester, students process information for their textbook according to their own abilities: by typing, hand-writing, orally recording themselves, or visually designing ideas. Students end up with their own tailored guide and learn how the process of inclusion requires flexibility, creativity, and innovation. I encourage engineering students to take generative inclusive practices into their own work as well. I love to remind students that the typewriter was designed for a blind woman and texting was developed for deaf users.
What’s surprised you most about coming to Rice?
My students are hungry for communication instruction. Last semester in my Workplace Communication course, students submitted a job letter for their first major assignment. I gave them detailed written comments and an oral note using Otter.ai. At the end of the note, I said informally that I would be excited to see how they revise their letters. Within a week, most of my students had voluntarily revised and emailed asking for more comments!
What scholarship are you working on?
I’m finishing up revisions on a book coming out later this year: Inclusive College Classrooms, co-authored with Lauren Cardon (University of Alabama) for Routledge Press. This semester, I’m also excited to transfer my website AccessibleSyllabus.com to Rice. The site was originally designed by myself and a team of undergraduates at Tulane University. We show college instructors how to create a syllabus that students will actually use, based on my work in Universal Design for Learning. I hope to grow and revise the project and meet new collaborators here at Rice.
Photo by Jamie Glisson