Congratulations to the American Council on Education (ACE) on the release of their superb report entitled, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: 2020 Supplement by Morgan Taylor, Jonathan M. Turk, Hollie M. Chessman, and Lorelle L. Espinosa. HEI contributed to one of the chapters in this report, “Career and Technical Education in the Learning Economy: Toward a Promise of Racial Equity.” These reports provide crucial data to inform efforts in closing equity gaps in higher education.
HEI is proud to provide evaluation support to the Woodward-Hines Education Foundation (WHEF), whose mission is to help more Mississippians obtain postsecondary credentials, college certificates, and degrees that lead to meaningful employment.
WHEF’s flagship program, Get2College, was recently featured in the Washington Post for its innovative efforts to help Mississipians fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), such as online tutorials, phone consults, and an upcoming drive-through advising event. Through services like these and others, Get2College provides counseling on college admission and financial aid, and supports grants to increase college access and success, to 45,000 Mississippi students each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided additional barriers to many students trying to access Get2College services. From the Washington Post:
“People are very concerned about so many other things right now, especially those from underserved communities,” said Shannon Grimsley, outreach program director at Get2College….“We want them to know we’re here to get them over the finish line.”
While technology is essential for college advising this year, it can also be a formidable barrier. Poor broadband access in some of the rural parts of Mississippi has made virtual FAFSA workshops tricky as students get kicked off or screens freeze up, Grimsley said.
Read the full article here, and learn more about Get2College here.
HEI invites you to get to know our fantastic staff members. Each month, we will highlight a different colleague. This month, learn about Dr. Tashera Gale’s background and what drives her professionally.
Tashera Gale is a passionate social scientist who employs asset-based approaches and culturally responsive practices, appreciating and leveraging the richness that exists within diverse populations. Dr. Gale contributes her experience as a past Syracuse University STEM Fellow primarily focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) educational and career pathways for under-represented populations. As a critical scholar, Dr. Gale identifies permeating systemic disparities hindering equitable outcomes for marginalized groups, and highlights techniques to counter their impacts. She advocates for equity and inclusion, both of which are central to her engagements in scholarship and service. Dr. Gale holds a PhD in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation from Syracuse University. She earned her master’s degree in the same field, as well as a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and sociology from Syracuse University.
What first drew you to work in higher education?
Honestly, I wasn’t initially drawn to higher education. I was interested in broadening access to and participation along Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academic and career pathways for Black and Brown youth living in inner-city communities, where trajectories extended from K-12 learning environments, through postsecondary contexts, and into the workforce. My motivation was helping children reimagine who they could be and what they could do. It was about instilling this truth that if given a chance, they—we—too could succeed. My life was changed in manners unimaginable because someone courageously invested in me in this same way. That’s where my advocacy for higher education began: an appreciation of and commitment to my lived experience.
How would you describe your current work/the work you’re most passionate about?
I love everything STEM! I get most excited when working on projects aimed at advancing equitable access to STEM opportunity. My current portfolio includes efforts like evaluations of STEM innovations at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, including within formal and informal learning environments; strategically scaling high-quality, equitable work-based learning in digital technology region-wide; understanding the landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused STEM education investments; comprehensive local needs assessments of Career and Technical Education; and examinations of gender equity among STEM faculty using an intersectional lens. I also support clients by designing research and evaluation studies of their STEM interventions during grant proposal submissions. As you can see, much of my work is STEM-oriented, but also quite varied in terms of content and context. I enjoy it all a great deal.
My passion is reinvigorated every time I am afforded the chance to observe students—especially young learners of color from underserved communities—positively engage with STEM and cultivate strong STEM identities. I become filled with such pride and joy as I witness firsthand the development of our next generation of STEM-ers!
What gives you hope in the work you do?
Every so often, I cross paths with educators, program directors, and other stakeholders that exude abundant enthusiasm about and genuine care for the learners they serve. Their commitment is demonstrated not only by the words that they speak but also their actions in practice. Relationships are established with families, they become familiar with and sometimes even a part of communities, they recognize and appreciate youth cultures, and understand the imperativeness of supporting the whole person. They authentically live the work. That type of passion and dedication is contagious, and gives me hope that there are people out there sincerely valuing and advocating for groups too often left at the margins.
And of course, the researcher in me would never allow me to talk about this idea of hope without mentioning impact. Identifying that an initiative or intervention successfully transformed lives, communities, and systems fosters a sense of intrinsic optimism that this world is filled with such great promise. While we can all appreciate the significance of impact as evidenced by numbers, for me, it all truly comes alive when hearing personal accounts. The power of reflection, of someone sharing their truth about how an experience was influential, is unmatched. It’s after leaving those conversations or reading stories and (counter) narratives that I am most inspired.
What is your favorite part of working at HEI and with HEI’s clients?
The people are definitely the best part about working at HEI—we have a tremendous team! Each of my colleagues contribute a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which supports our collective growth and development. One of our greatest assets, in fact, is the diversity of our experiences and backgrounds since we are able to leverage the broad perspectives they afford in all facets of our work. As a primarily virtual team (even pre-pandemic), we find creative ways of making connections and building community; icebreakers always leave me quite intrigued and often give me a good laugh. We each have unique interests and passions that attract us to this work but are unified in our shared value of advancing equitable, accessible educational opportunity for underserved populations. We also have an appreciation for one another as people, a profound respect that extends beyond our research or other professional identities. I truly couldn’t ask for a better team of colleagues.
My favorite part about working with HEI clients is collaborating to make a difference, however large or small. I also enjoy embarking on the journey of learning together from early exploration to deepened understanding. Most of all, I love when clients see and treat me as a partner in the work. Establishing that level of trust positions us to overcome the greatest challenges and realize the most substantial feats together, as a client-partner team.
Any final thoughts? I find myself fortunate being able to do work that excites me. I enjoy meeting new people, learning about different contexts, addressing interesting questions, and exploring at the intersection of research and education. There’s a level of comfort—assurance even—experienced when you recognize that the work you do has purpose and provides personal meaning.
HEI has found that WBL experiences are most robust when designed and/or implemented via partnerships among educators, employers, and community partners. Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, even within a WBL model; program structures need to be designed to adequately accommodate the local context. Further, assessment of capacity and readiness to deliver WBL should be engaged by WBL providers to assure well-planned, high-quality implementation. WBL models should be informed by indicators of program quality detailed below, where implications relating to relevant policy and program design are mutually considered.
Industry-aligned: All components of WBL should be industry-aligned to support participant development of technical and professional competencies required for successful performance in a career sector.
Equitable: Equity must be considered across all phases of WBL implementation, which encompass design, development, delivery, and measures of impact. It is imperative that equity is integrated within WBL structures as evidenced by inclusion of intentionally embedded mechanisms that foster inclusivity and accessibility—including those involving offerings, recruitment and selection, participant support, compensation, and expectations. Equity cannot be thought of as a component external to or separate from the WBL program. Utilization of an equity lens also entails identification of opportunities facilitating and barriers hindering equitable access to WBL, and consequently, advancing areas of promise and mitigating challenges. Quality WBL is inherently equitable.
Transferrable: Participants’ learning should be adaptable to other contexts within the industry or sector. Further, training should be designed so that learner outcomes are congruent with expectations and values recognized across the profession.
Accountable: Central to understanding the impacts of a WBL opportunity—including for educators, learners, community providers, and employers—is clearly defining program objectives and expected outcomes. This not only serves as a guideline for design and implementation efforts, but also provides the foundation for which metrics can be established to monitor progress and identify observed effects. Further, this level of transparency encourages accountability across stakeholder groups.
Overall, WBL programs comprising these key principles have been found to be effective:
Support entry and advancement in a career track by providing opportunities for participants to develop technical and professional competencies.
Provide meaningful job tasks that build career skills and knowledge in the form of appropriately complex and relevant tasks with structured mentorship and supervision.
Offer compensation, which demonstrates that participants’ contributions are valued and makes opportunities accessible to individuals who might not otherwise be afforded the ability to take part in these experiences without financial support.
Identify target skills and how gains will be validated, to the mutual benefit of participants and employers.
Reward skill development through opportunities for more advanced responsibilities as well as wage and/or benefit increases, all of which positively reinforce learning and continued development.
Support college entry, persistence, and completion by assuring alignment among educational and industry objectives; WBL can be designed to excel postsecondary degree or industry-specific credential attainment through articulation agreements or embedded credit structures.
Provide comprehensive student support via career counseling or advisement, equipping students with the information required to make informed career decisions.
Whether you are a first-time grant award recipient or celebrating the next big win, the importance of finding a good, qualified evaluator or research partner cannot be overstated. A competitive procurement process requires requests for proposals (RFPs), and many organizations have to reconcile soliciting bids to satisfy awardee, organizational, or state procurement rules while vetting each candidate’s experience and ability. Often, many default to their organization’s procurement specialists or use a standard RFP template, which may or may not cover all the bases.
As consultants to grantees and proposal writers, we at HEI wish to humbly provide some guidance on what should be included in your RFP to ensure that your solicitation contains all the information you intend to provide to—and solicit from—your bidders. Our template below should get you started. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Executive Summary: Lay out for responders all critical information about your effort in one page. At a minimum this should include the key contact, a brief statement of the work, minimum qualifications to apply, and any important dates.
Introduction: Provide concise RFP Information.
Describe your organization in a brief introduction along with a summary of the core need you’re seeking to fulfill.
Describe who is the sponsor of the work and who will ultimately be the internal consumer of the services and work-products.
Provide submission format guidelines, e.g., page limits, required layout, online or physical mailing, and required interviews.
Description: Provide a description of the program, innovation, intervention, or research that is the focus for your proposed work. Include well-honed research questions (presuming this RFP is for research or evaluation), i.e., what are you trying to learn/know?
Scope of Work and Applicant Capabilities: Define the desired or ideal scope of work for the vendor. Include:
Anticipated timeline from start to finish.
Stakeholder groups involved and/or subjects of the study.
Specific work items required, preferred, and optional. (Note: Don’t over define the work, as you’re hiring for outside expertise; provide room for the RFP process to generate creative ideas for you.) Work items can include:
Data collection activities, such as focus groups, onsite observations, surveys, etc.
Desired testing or measurement such as pre- and post-tests, group comparisons, change over time, and comparison against a benchmark.
Needed deliverables such as a formal word document, PowerPoint, in-person presentations, infographics, interactive dashboard, and form or submission within upload systems.
Proposal Submission Guidelines: Spell out essential guidance to help streamline the RFP process for both your organization and the applicant. Include the following:
Budget: Consider offering a budget range, if you have one, and note the variables that can impact that range such as the number of interviews, virtual or in-person site visits, a final presentation vs. printed final reports, etc.
Component Checklist: List all items the applicant must submit.
Submission Timeline: Clearly state how, where, and when the proposal must be submitted.
Award Timeline: Clearly note how, when, and where the proposal will be awarded. (Note: Set a timeline you can stick to.)
References: Define the kinds of references that exemplify the experience and qualifications required and denote information needed, e.g., client name, contact info, description of work delivered, etc.
Evaluation of Submissions: Provide the proposal evaluation criteria, rubric, or terms used to select the vendor.
Do you make special considerations for MWBE, HUB, or Veterans policies?
Will certain experience and qualifications be weighted higher?
Appendix: Provide any required procurement forms to the end of the RFP.
HEI is always here to help. If we can assist in your RFP process, please contact us.
As professionals today, meetings are central to everything we do. We meet to plan, strategize, and implement. We also carve time out to collaborate, network, and connect. And perhaps most important, we meet for professional growth, personal learning, and inspiration. At their best, meetings are the heartbeat of our professional lives—they augment the humanity of our daily grinds and inspire us toward a better future. And yet, the vast majority of the meetings most of us attend are truly awful.
Enter Zoom—and all of the above is magnified. We’re hungrier than ever for connection and for the magic of a constructive professional gathering. And at the same time, boring and underprepared speakers, the takeover of one or more powerful voices, poorly planned agendas, and unfocused tangents zap our spirits and our energy.
Can anything be done? Are meetings the problem? Is Zoom the problem? It’s complicated but in short: yes, maybe, and no.
At HEI, we’ve unlocked powerful strategies for making Zoom meetings more engaging, efficient, democratic, and fulfilling than ever.
As HEI’s founder, I live near Washington, DC, and in a typical week, I could fill my calendar with endless events and meetings with colleagues in my field. Pre-COVID-19, I’d walk in the door, grab a coffee, say hello, and settle into my chair after some brief informal networking.
Five minutes into the meeting, usually more than half the room would be checking their cell phones or laptops. Total disengagement would occur across the room from the moment the lead speaker would start spouting off impressive bios of whomever was up to talk at us for the next 20 to 45 minutes. I’d often start to wonder why I was there and laugh to myself while they outlined the “engaging conversation that they had planned,” which was never really a conversation at all. Along with my colleagues in the room, I might start thinking about (if not working on) other tasks of the day. I might ponder how and when I could escape—though if I did, I’d have to do it with haste, as though an emergency task had beckoned me from the event.
The Virtual Now
Today, the same is true for virtual meetings, except now the breadth of potential distractions is tenfold. You can shut off your video and hit mute—and then check your email, pay your bills, or even order groceries (I’m guilty of doing all three at once)! So how do we make our meetings more engaging, meaningful, and efficient—especially on Zoom?
In more than half the meetings where I’ve been present, the extent of the “engagement” with audience members is no more than a Q & A session. Sometimes this is done with an open forum, and other times it is done through a carefully selected moderator who asks questions of the panelists. Unfortunately, no matter how well it is executed, this does not pass the sniff test for engagement. It’s the 21st century, and as viewers or audience members, we’re more sophisticated than ever. The old guard of “good” meetings would dictate that: human beings learn by hearing content, those with the most power and knowledge have value, and only a few voices really matter. Today, we need more and can do better.
At HEI, we use an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) framework in our meetings and in our research. AI beautifully adapts to the virtual space, and several of our staff members are certified to lead large and small convenings using AI in the XCHANGE facilitation approach. The core premise of AI can be best summed up in the words of David Cooperrider, the founder of AI: “We live in the world our questions create.” In other words, questions in and of themselves are not neutral, but they create change and impact what we see. Questions bring awareness and have power to be generative. Taking this perspective into how we prepare for and engage in meetings creates an openness to learning and a shift in how we seek to achieve meeting objectives. The following key beliefs guide our approach, and could improve your meetings:
Prize engagement over control. Many meeting planners default to one-way, speaker-centered approaches, because they depend on the certainty of a few leaders/experts controlling the space. Too often this is at the expense of deep engagement. Open up the gates to encourage dialogue and exchange. The unexpected may happen but can be managed through preparation, as we help participants first connect with each other on the places where they share values. For example, a simple question at the start of a meeting might include a small group breakout in Zoom, where a few people introduce themselves and answer one question: Why is it important for you to be here today? Or: What about this topic is meaningful to you, your community, the world? Connection—right there in the first few minutes of a meeting—makes each of the individual voices in the room more important than the resume of the first speaker.
In order for learning to be effective, it must be active. As a species, we learn by doing, not just reading, seeing, or hearing. It takes courage to invite engagement, challenge, interaction, and a diversity of voices. The primary role of a leader, facilitator, or educator is to create space for learning, which we know occurs through engagement. Even in meetings intended for the sharing of knowledge and content from a few expert speakers, the majority of what is conveyed will be lost without a few basic questions before, during, and after the learning content. Active learning requires that those listening have an opportunity to engage in the content in a meaningful way. For example, facilitators could provide a reflection guide and give the audience a few minutes to jot down some thoughts on the topic, or even to identify and post their biggest questions. After content is delivered, facilitators can then offer an opportunity for small group discussions about what was most meaningful to participants.
Democratize power and value. Our approach to meetings stems from our culture’s deep roots in hierarchy and privileging only a few voices. A democratic approach to learning together requires that more voices are welcomed at the table. Hearing from others with different viewpoints also contributes to a participant leaving a meeting with lasting learning. One way to do this is by valuing the voices in the room. For example, facilitators could invite the audience to contribute their wisdom, which benefits everyone. For Zoom meetings less than 50, ideas can be crowdsourced with the hand-raising function, or participants can be asked to share wisdom in 10 words or less. For Zoom meetings over 50, you can invite responses using Padlet, Menti, or another shared polling and brainstorming resource. You can ask those who have been radically inspired to raise their hands and share what has made such a big impact on them. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Storytelling is at the heart of connection. By providing space for small group conversations, we allow for the opportunity for meaningful connections—with the topics at hand and also with one another. How much more will a participant gain from the virtual meeting experience than when they hear a story about why the topic at hand is important to another colleague, or why something they heard was impactful to them personally and professionally? Ultimately, stories are what we remember and how we connect, and participants and speakers all have stories to tell about what is at the heart of a meeting’s content. Whether that topic is hard quantitative data, expert advice or learning, or big picture musings, all of us are in the “room” on the day of the event because something about this topic, this work, this professional life we live made it matter to be here. Tell that story.
We are all tired of boring meetings devoid of connection, equality of voices, and deeper learning. In this moment, where we find ourselves in a world comprised entirely of digital social spaces, now is the time to revolutionize our approaches for coming together.
Want to learn more about our approach? We’d love to speak with you and help plan your next major convening.
This is the first post in a brief series on work-based learning opportunities in a virtual environment. For more information, please reach out to us—we’d love to hear from you.
Internships and other work-based learning (WBL) opportunities are a time-honored strategy for building a strong workforce pipeline for any organization—especially when executed in a strategic manner that maximizes value for all parties involved.
Traditional internships and other WBL have taken place on-site at a company’s facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, thrown a wrench in many organizations’ plans for such programs, as a majority of work is taking place from home for the foreseeable future. Without being able to convene in person, should organizations still offer internships and other WBL opportunities? If so, how do they do so in a meaningful and effective way in a virtual setting?
Below, HEI provides the preliminary steps and strategies for bringing these opportunities online. For the sake of this post, we’ll use the term “work-based learning (WBL)” to cover internships and apprenticeships, as well as related experiences including sessions with guest speakers, workplace tours, informational interviews, short classes, and career counseling.
Implementing Virtual Work-Based Learning
Many of the preliminary strategies below are similar to those that would be applied within an in-person setting but require additional attention to apply in a virtual environment.
Identify a high-level employee(s) to lead all WBL efforts. It is important that one point of contact oversees the organization or company’s WBL efforts—and that this individual has high level buy-in (e.g., the ability to leverage human and financial resources as needed). This person will ensure that students have adequate access to company resources and can articulate across the company the short- and long-term benefits it receives from providing WBL activities, generate increased participation among staff, and ensure that staff, as best as possible, reflect the diverse students they will engage.
Review company’s technology policy. Each employer should identify relevant policies for engaging non-employees in a virtual setting. For example, the following questions may need to be addressed: Does age impact engagement? Are there minimum software and hardware requirements for engagement? Do non-employees need to be granted special access? What role can social media play? Employers should also be prepared to help students access prerequisite software and hardware, as well as assist with troubleshooting.
Clearly define the WBL activity. In virtual settings, shorter, more narrowly defined WBL activities may work best. For each activity, employers should answer the following questions: How does the activity benefit the student? How does the activity benefit the company and/or region? How is the activity directly connected to knowledge, skills, and competencies for a current or projected company role(s)?
Prepare employees to engage students virtually. Employers should prepare staff for engaging students in a virtual context. There will not be opportunities for spontaneous conversations in the hallway with an intern or someone to greet a student doing an informational interview in a physical waiting area. Issues related to evaluating student productivity remotely, setting expectations for virtual face-to-face time, and limiting distractions are all important discussions to have.
Provide a virtual on-boarding process. One benefit of in-person WBL experiences is the ability to communicate company culture in a variety of ways. Employers must be more intentional about communicating company culture in a virtual setting. How can a student get a sense of the company’s values and “how things are done” without walking the office halls? The use of pre-recorded videos and photos or sharing a screenshot of a “typical workday” are some ways to address this issue.
Create opportunities for follow-up. This may be many students’ first introduction to an industry and having someone they can follow-up with, in the future, may help increase their awareness and interest. This can be informal by providing contact information or conducted formally by engaging the same students in multiple, distinct WBL activities.
Track for equity. We know, for example, that women and students of color, including women of color, are underrepresented in the IT field. We also know that increasing representation will help the region meet current, critical gaps in workforce talent. Each employer should intentionally recruit diverse students and track student participation by group to determine whether additional measures must be taken to increase diversity in student participation.
Be patient, flexible, and open to learn. Employers have found themselves in a position they could not have fully predicted and the same is true for students. Students should witness employers model the type of patience, flexibility, and willingness to learn from new challenges that are valuable assets in any industry.
As employers contemplate mobilizing WBL and devising strategies regarding its implementation, it is important to recognize and highlight the value of quality WBL to both students and employers. Students benefit from gains in career exposure, hands-on industry involvement, reinforcement of academic learning, and paid work experience. Employers benefit from the development of robust talent pipelines, access to a diverse labor pool, positive reputation, increased employee buy-in, and growth in business prospects. Overall, quality WBL is accessible to all, aiding in participants’ development of industry-specific skills and knowledge, while also strengthening the pipeline to support the cultivation of a talented, technically literate workforce.
Stay tuned for our next post in this series on ensuring the quality of WBL. Have questions? Please reach out to us!
HEI is excited to congratulate Wayne State University (WSU) and the Belle Isle Conservancy (BIC) on their project video being chosen for the 2020 STEM for All Video Showcase! The online film festival highlights innovations in STEM education from programs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies.
HEI worked with WSU to evaluate the project featured in the video: the NSF-funded ITEST (Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers) project, “Promoting Student Interest in Science and Science Careers Through a Scalable Place-based Environmental Program at a Public Aquarium.” This innovative initiative provides immersive learning opportunities for the city of Detroit’s fifth-grade teachers and students to increase minority students’ exposure to STEM careers.
The project’s activities take place at the Belle Isle Aquarium, operated by the BIC, and include:
A four-day summer teacher institute.
‘Mini’ grants offered to summer institute participants.
Class field trips for fifth-grade students. (Note: Following COVID-19 school closures, virtual field trips were made available.)
HEI prepared a report documenting the entire life cycle of this project and offered recommendations for moving forward. We’re excited to see its future.
If you’d like to learn more about this project or our services, please contact us!