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How Georgia Tech Uses DEI to Engage Their Team

Written by: Natalia Alvarez Rodriguez

The Georgia Tech EcoCAR EV Challenge Team has ingeniously leveraged Georgia Tech’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) class structure to manage its 50+ member team and ensure each member’s voice is heard. The VIP class structure allows students from varied academic backgrounds and majors, each bringing a unique perspective to the team, to gain academic credit for their work. For many years, the team has benefitted from the VIP class time structure as it physically brings this diverse set of students together and creates a sense of community where each opinion is valued. This has strengthened the team greatly and become a cornerstone of the team’s success as it fosters a rich tapestry of perspective and brings forth Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles.

This year, the Georgia Tech Team has elevated its emphasis on DEI principles within the VIP class meetings, redefining how team members interact with each other. In previous years, students seized the opportunity to present their research and contributions during select meetings. While valuable, the team sought to further empower its members, encouraging them to voice opinions freely in every meeting as opposed to only when presentations were assigned. Therefore, the team’s Equity in Mobility Lead (EML), Sophie Ayoung-Chee, updated the VIP class syllabus to incorporate activities promoting constant participation. The new syllabus was designed to cultivate an environment of frequent communication across the six subteams, foster stronger team bonding, and encourage open dialogue about the challenges faced by team members, ultimately garnering a greater diversity of thought.

The updated syllabus includes lessons designed to ensure all team members feel connected beyond their subteams. Team leads kick off meetings with higher-level subteam updates, breaking down complex information into digestible language accessible to every team member. After addressing questions, the team engages in full-team activities that stimulate participation. These can include the entire team taking fun quizzes on fun facts regarding all team members, guided discussions on the Equity in Mobility Challenge, resume reviews with previously unmet team members, etc. These activities are often paired with candy rewards as people share with the rest of the class- to encourage wide open communication.

Team leadership felt it was extremely important to have a class meeting solely dedicated to DEI, and because the VIP classroom was better established as a safe-space and the team became more engaged with class sessions as the semester progressed, the leadership invited a guest speaker for the class to listen to and engage with. The Program Director of Student Diversity Programs at Georgia Tech, Julian Oliver, visited during the penultimate class session to give a talk about the impact that an emphasis on DEI can have on team members’ lives. The entire team excitedly participated in his presentation. He led a class activity where each person identified some of their privileges and noted the number of people who they trust that come from marginalized backgrounds. Team members who felt comfortable sharing could share some of the conclusions they came to after analyzing how some of their daily interactions related to DEI. Many students did feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences and noted afterward that the classroom felt like a place where they felt safe to share their opinions.

By creating an environment that actively welcomes questions and opinions from every member, the team has achieved a remarkable increase in open communication as far more students are unafraid of sharing their thoughts. Now, students can directly engage with faculty advisors about ideas and opinions related to the team mission. This innovative approach has fostered a more connected team and, according to a team survey, led to an increased enjoyment of team meetings among members. The Georgia Tech EcoCAR EV Challenge Team’s commitment to DEI principles is not just transforming their approach to the EcoCAR Challenge; it is creating a culture of inclusivity and empowerment that reverberates throughout the entire team.