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Kara Peterman Receives College TIDE Accelerator

Kara Peterman

Kara Peterman

Assistant Professor Dr. Kara D. Peterman of the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department has received a $1,500 TIDE Accelerator Award from the College of Engineering for a project titled “Addressing inequity in access to safe and reliable housing into CEE 240 Statics.” The TIDE accelerator program supports faculty interested in curricular change, awarding funding to engineering faculty whose TIDE applications incorporate ideas of embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion and inclusive design into the engineering curriculum.

According to Peterman, “I intend to design a lesson plan for CEE 240 Statics that will address inequitable access to safe and reliable housing. Specifically, [I will] teach students about the systemic issues at the root of housing inequality and the consequences of unreliable housing under threat of natural hazards.”

Peterman added that “I will use post-disaster reconnaissance data to demonstrate the change in force transfer mechanisms when a home is poorly maintained or designed.”

In her TIDE application, Peterman explained her Accelerator project as part of her evolution as an accomplished teacher and an advocate of inclusiveness in the teaching administration and curriculum.

“I am in my fifth year as an assistant professor at UMass,” Peterman explained. “I started with zero teacher training…and have actively worked to become a better teacher during these five years. I have done this for two reasons: because I believe I owe it to my students to be the best professor I can be, and because teaching is more joyful when I know what I am doing.”

Peterman’s CV speaks to the lengths she has taken to boost her teaching ability and integrate diversity, equity, and inclusiveness into her classes, beginning with her participation in the Innovate@UMass program, which brought together faculty who have a shared interest in instruction and innovation through a variety of events that encourage building relationships and connections across disciplines.

Later Peterman took part in an intensive, week-long, civil-engineering-specific, teaching workshop through the American Society of Civil Engineers ExCEED program, a practicum that provides engineering educators with an opportunity to improve their teaching abilities.

In addition to those learning experiences, Peterman was the principal investigator (PI) on a UMass Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Mutual Mentoring Grant, “Women of CEE,” and a year later a PI on the ADVANCE Mutual Mentoring grant of the same name.

“Our mutual mentoring work under the CTL grant involved addressing the seniority gap for women in civil and environmental engineering,” explained Peterman. “The grant allowed us to bring senior women in our fields to campus for technical talks and mentorship via lunches and individual meetings. The goal of our ADVANCE Mutual Mentoring Grant was to host a regional grant-writing workshop for women in civil infrastructure.”

These experiences, as Peterman said, culminated in a UMass CTL Lilly Fellowship, which enables promising early-career faculty to cultivate teaching excellence in a special year-long collaboration. Each year, up to eight teaching fellows are selected to work closely with CTL on individual projects that typically involve developing or redesigning a course.

“I was a 2019-2020 CTL Lilly Fellow,” said Peterman. “A major focus of this fellowship was ensuring that students have the same access to new knowledge, which drills to the heart of teaching diverse students. Through the Lilly Fellowship, I learned to better assess the current knowledge and background of my class and how to critically assess my own blind spots regarding student background.”

CEE 497K/597K Unified Structural Design was the upper-level course that Peterman developed through her Lilly Fellowship, and now she hopes to accomplish a similar feat with her lower-level CEE 240 Statics course by introducing many of the basics of housing inequality and unsafe housing into this course.

TIDE Accelerator will close the circle and allow Peterman to take her next giant step toward teaching diversity, equity, and inclusion to all her engineering students. (April 2021)