Reflective Waves: Reflective Waves: Raising Awareness with the Implementing Change Working Group

By Ashley Atkinson

Edited by Nita Tarchinski

For the fourth article in our Reflective Waves series, we are aiming the spotlight at our third Working Group, Implementing Change. Established alongside the Measurements and Experiments Working Groups, the participants in Implementing Change work to understand how data is used at the administrative level and how that data can be presented to influence institutional systems. Over the past five years, 50 members of SEISMIC have contributed to the efforts of the Implementing Change Working Group, helping to share how administrative and institutional structures, tools, and data enhance programs, initiatives, and efforts focused on undergraduate STEM success.

The Implementing Change Working Group is led by two co-chairs: Marco Molinaro, Executive Director for Educational Effectiveness and Analytics at the University of Maryland, and Martha Oakley, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Indiana University. To learn more about the efforts of Implementing Change, I spoke with Molinaro about his experiences with the Working Group. Molinaro recalls conversations with SEISMIC Director Tim McKay early on in the collaboration, regarding uses for equity data and involving administrators in SEISMIC. While the Measurements Working Group is focused on the “nitty-gritty” data work, Implementing Change was designed to be more big picture, raising awareness of findings from data analysis, Molinaro says. He has helped lead the group in highlighting inequities in higher education STEM courses and urging institutional leaders to take action.

WG 3 Co-Chair Marco Molinaro

WG 3 Co-Chair Martha Oakley

Molinaro leads Implementing Change’s “Building Awareness and Empathy” project, which aims to demonstrate the ubiquity of inequitable outcomes for students of different races and socioeconomic statuses in introductory STEM courses. Five of SEISMIC’s member institutions–UC Irvine, Indiana University, University of Michigan, UC Davis, and UC Santa Barbara–contributed data to explore the intersection of identities, experiences, and opportunities and the impacts these factors have on college outcomes. They found that students with these factors, such as being a first-generation college student, a racial minority, and/or being low-income, were more likely to experience inequities and thus disparities in course performance and college success as a whole. Additionally, the disparity was worse for Black and Hispanic students.

“It’s often a shock to people as to how much [this data] true,” says Molinaro, who presented the findings alongside Sehoya Cotner, Michael Dennin, Dennis Groth, Becky Matz, and Tim McKay at the 2020 AAU STEM Network Conference. The group also emphasized that there was more work to be done: educational researchers must investigate if these patterns hold across systems, what learning environments and course structures lead to fewer equity gaps, and how we can craft stories to inspire change. SEISMIC Scholar Michael Johnson III investigated some of these questions with his poster “Exploring and Supporting Equitable Policies from the Campus to the Classroom”, where he looked at general university policies, placement exam policies, and supporting faculty with implementing equitable practices. He worked to develop one-pagers to be distributed to instructors with recommendations for more equitable grading policies such as “What Does Extra Credit Measure?” and “What is Minimum Grading?” All of these efforts are critical to creating change at the institutional level. “We’ve created a system that perpetuates prior opportunity, even while we make the argument that our systems are here to equalize opportunity for people,” says Molinaro.

“Tools that Influence Introductory STEM Structures and Beyond” is another one of the Implementing Change projects, investigating campus tools that support a system of change. Available tools often shape both instruction and the student experience, as they influence methods of evaluation, communication, and student support. One tool project members looked at was the Know Your Students tool at UC Davis, which allows instructors to better understand their student population and foster discussion. Additionally, members analyzed at ECoach, a student-directed, personalized coaching tool and research platform founded at the University of Michigan that allows tailored communication and interventions for students. Many also ended up adopting ECoach for their own classrooms, as research shows that ECoach’s psychosocial profiles and personalized messaging is effective at improving course performance (Matz et al., 2021). SEISMIC Scholar Anna Rickabaugh also gave a poster presentation on the tools project, giving an overview of the tools that the project is looking at.

Despite the group’s progress toward sharing equity data to catalyze change, the journey has not been without challenges. “Higher education is incredibly stable. And with what we’re trying to do, that’s not a good thing,” Molinaro says. While Implementing Change has created a more welcoming environment for equity discussions, identifying who can create change at the departmental or institutional level is a separate challenge. There are curriculum committees, program review systems, and even state legislatures that all must be convinced that change is needed. Still, it’s a fight that Molinaro, Oakley, and many others have taken on. With the important work that Implementing Change has, critical data and effective presentations can accelerate administrative buy-in and amplify insights from the other Working Groups



Matz, R., Schulz, K., Hanley, E., Derry, H., Hayward, B., Koester, B., Hayward, C., & McKay, T. (2021). Analyzing the Efficacy of ECoach in Supporting Gateway Course Success Through Tailored Support. LAK21: 11th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, 216–225.


Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alumnus of Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.