Introducing SEISMIC Themes

By Linda Adler-Kassner & Nita Kedharnath

Why are we adding Themes to SEISMIC?

At our 2020 SEISMIC Summer Meeting, we heard from participants a desire to more formally connect the work of our Working Groups. In many ways, “measurement,” “experiments,” “implementing change,” and “constructs” are parts of larger processes for institutional change. For instance, to recommend policies, we need to experiment with changes; we need to define “constructs” to assess efforts toward equity and inclusion. With this in mind, while still maintaining the communities and projects of the Working Groups, we decided to add a new organizational layer to our collaboration called Themes.

Themes will tie together the knowledge gained through SEISMIC projects within Working Groups to focus on specific SEISMIC goals and to make SEISMIC-level recommendations. To achieve our ambitions for large-scale improvement in equity and inclusion in introductory STEM courses, Themes will enable us to leverage the expertise across the collaboration, intentionally bringing together experts in DEI scholarship, STEM teaching faculty, campus leaders, and institutional researchers.

What are the Themes?

Each Theme is defined by a short phrase and guiding question. The Theme Leaders (more on that below) will identify specific deliverables for each Theme. Each Theme is intentionally defined to include people and projects from across the four SEISMIC Working Groups (measurement, experiments, implementing change, and constructs); they are not meant to align with a single Working Group or Key Project.

The three Themes that we have identified and the questions at their core are:

Policies, Practices, and Assessments for Change

What are the best data-driven policies, practices, and assessment strategies to promote STEM classroom equity, and how can departments incorporate these strategies across their introductory courses?

Presenting Data at Multiple Levels for Change

What is the best way to operationalize equity and inclusion and present usable and compelling data to different audiences (faculty, department, administration) to motivate change and promote asset-based thinking regarding students at multiple levels?

Capacity-Building for Introductory STEM Change Makers

How can SEISMIC support introductory STEM change makers in leveraging their resources and developing structures so all students who have been historically “othered” can feel they belong in STEM?

Okay, but how are these different from Working Groups?

Good question. SEISMIC’s Working Groups bring together people and/or projects around specific foci under a wider umbrella. All are related to the Working Group topic. For example, our Experiments Working Group brings together many discipline-based education researchers and instructors to run specific experiments in STEM courses. These experiments may or may not be related to each other, but are connected in that they are all experiments in STEM courses. The Working Group provides the community to brainstorm with and try out these many projects.

Our Themes, on the other hand, seek to bring together the knowledge from multiple Working Groups into an aligned set of recommendations or activities. A Theme’s focus is not on running projects, but rather is focused on finding the connections between different SEISMIC activities. The ultimate goal of each Theme is to produce something actionable on behalf of the collaboration. The figure below describes how the different pieces of SEISMIC fit together.


What will the Themes actually do?

Based on the core questions (above), Theme Leaders will determine appropriate deliverables for each Theme. This could involve developing a set of recommendations, running workshops for the collaboration, publishing papers on their findings, or other activities. Once this is established, the Themes will connect with Working Groups and project teams as needed to learn what the collaboration has done related to these Themes, and what is missing.

Each Theme is responsible for organizing at least two SEISMIC-wide events in 2021. Events the Themes might hold include facilitated discussions, workshops, talk presentations, and more. These events will be an opportunity for the Themes to share what they are learning, get feedback, and stay connected to the collaboration. Each Theme will also provide a progress report to the SEISMIC Collaboration Council twice a year, including details on their most recent event, how they are making progress on their set of goals and deliverables, and upcoming plans to apply for funding. Finally, each Theme will present an update on their work at the 2021 SEISMIC Summer Meeting.

This sounds like a lot of work. How is this really going to happen?

Each Theme will be guided by two leaders, a Director and a Fellow (6 positions total for three Themes). All leaders will receive a $4,000 stipend for the 2020-2021 year. Applications for these positions close 10/30/2020 (apply here). Our Collaboration Council will review applications and select the leaders by mid-November 2020.

Anyone affiliated with a SEISMIC Institution is encouraged to apply for either the Director or Fellow positions. We especially encourage members with grant-writing experience to apply to be a Theme Director. The Director will take on a bigger picture role around activities of the Theme such as writing grant proposals or planning a SEISMIC-wide Theme event. They will look out for funding opportunities for the Theme. 

We especially encourage graduate students and postdoctoral fellows looking for leadership experience to apply to be a Theme Fellow. The Fellow will be responsible for connecting directly with the SEISMIC projects and staying updated on SEISMIC activities.

Theme Leaders are Expected To:

  • Apply for cross-institutional funding to support the work of the Theme
  • Lead organization of Theme events at least twice per year
  • Pull together Theme progress reports to send to the Collaboration Council twice per year
  • Facilitate collaboration within their Theme and between their Theme and the Working Groups
  • Identify clear goals and deliverables for their Theme and move their team towards them. Deliverables could include developing a set of recommendations, running workshops, publishing, etc.


All SEISMIC members are encouraged to join any Theme they are interested in. Participation in these Themes will look different for each one, but will generally involve supporting the Theme to achieve its (to be determined) deliverables. Once our Theme Directors and Fellows are selected, we will provide more information on what it means to be a Theme participant for each Theme. For now, feel free to email Nita ( if you would like to indicate interest in a Theme or if you have any questions.


Linda Adler-Kassner, Ph.D.

Linda Adler-Kassner, Ph.D. is the Faculty Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning at the University of California Santa Barbara as well as a Professor of Writing Studies and the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education. Linda is a member of the SEISMIC Collaboration Council and co-leads the Access to Practice project with Vanessa.


Nita Kedharnath

Nita Kedharnath is the Project Manager of the SEISMIC Collaboration. She coordinates the implementation and evaluation of SEISMIC activities and co-leads the Stakeholder Perspectives project in the Constructs Working Group.

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