Purdue's Classroom Climate Workshops, developed in 1995 to train engineering and science teaching assistants, are drawing the interest of universities from all over the United States and at least one large corporation. Bruce Parkinson, director of human resources administration for Delco Electronics in Kokomo, Ind., and coordinator of General Motors' recruiting activities at Purdue, says he thinks the workshops, which use an interactive theater method of presentation, would be a powerful tool for use in workplace diversity training.
"We have attended the Purdue workshops, and they have a most profound effect on participants," Parkinson says. "This interactive method gets the message across much more effectively than someone standing in a room giving a presentation with overhead slides."
During the workshops, the performers act out three different scenarios with a facilitator leading a question-and-answer session after each scene. Participants then split into small discussion groups to talk about what they've seen and learned. In the campus setting, the workshops focus on gender equity. In a corporate setting, the topics could include racism, sexism or cultural differences.
"A program like this would be highly effective in training executives for assignments in other countries," Parkinson says. "Drama provides a great way to illustrate and understand other cultures."
The workshops are the brainchild of Emily Wadsworth, assistant director of Women in Engineering Programs at Purdue. She developed them while looking at ways to improve retention of female engineering students. Wadsworth had discovered that male students interrupt more often and speak longer than female students. She also found that teachers tend to have more eye contact with male students and call on them more frequently. The workshops were one way to change that behavior.
"It's a good way to encourage discussion of sensitive subjects," Wadsworth says. "It involves the entire audience and allows participants to explore issues in a safe environment."
So far, 550 teaching assistants in the Schools of Engineering and Science have attended the workshops, and the results have been consistent.
"Our post-workshop surveys show that participants are coming away with a new understanding of gender equity issues in the classroom and the importance of treating all students fairly," Wadsworth says.
Starting in the fall of 1998, the workshops will be offered to teaching assistants
in all 10 of Purdue's academic schools, and a pilot program was made available to
engineering, science and liberal arts faculty this spring. Wadsworth says she hopes
to offer the workshops to the corporate world soon. In the meantime, the acting troupe has
been giving command performances for Midwest colleges and universities, and at several
national conferences on higher education. Demand for the program has prompted Purdue
to make the workshops available on video. It can be ordered through Purdue's Continuing
Education Administration for $150. For more information, call 1-800-359-2968.
CONTACTS: Wadsworth, (765) 494-6611; e-mail, email@example.com
Parkinson, (317) 451-0777
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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