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DEI Fellows Reflect on 2022-2023 Academic Year

September 12, 2023

DEI Fellows Reflect on 2022-2023 Academic Year

By Jess Ignasky

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellowship was created in the fall of 2021 as part of the Integrated Innovation Institute’s Equity in Action Committee and is awarded to two iii students (located in Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh) who are passionate advocates for social justice and equity. 

Fellows collaborate with iii staff on subcommittees to implement specific DEI initiatives as outlined in the College of Engineering DEI Strategic Plan and serve as representatives for the iii student population across both campuses on matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We spoke to 2022-2023 DEI Fellows Maria Beatriz Manrique Ardila (MIIPS ‘23) and Seemran Mishra (MSSM ‘23) about their experience and learnings from their year in the program. 

What topics did you focus on during your monthly coffee chats?

Maria Beatriz Manrique Ardila: 
I focused on a diverse range of topics such as mental health, Black History Month, International Women’s Day, bystander intervention, and disabilities. One of the first activities we did was sharing how we each said “haha,” in our different languages. We collected phrases that we shared on Post-it notes in the MIIPS Studio.

post it notes in different languages all about the word coffee

Seemran Mishra: 
Throughout the year, the biweekly coffee chats served as a vital platform for open discussions and meaningful connections. First, we kicked off the fall semester with "Coffee Around the World," an event where all the students wrote the word "coffee" in their native tongue on colorful Post-it notes and stuck them to the coffee machine. This interactive activity celebrated the diversity of our student community, with representation in 20 languages. As spring arrived, we aimed to enhance awareness and education by curating each coffee chat around a specific theme. Topics such as mental health awareness and accessibility were given dedicated sessions, allowing for deeper exploration and understanding.

Another remarkable coffee chat focused on bystander Intervention where attendees engaged in thought-provoking discussions about their potential reactions in the face of discrimination. Participants reflected on their role as allies and contemplated ways to stand up against any form of bias or prejudice.

What challenges/successes did you experience during your year as a DEI fellow?

coffee chat pittsburgh

Maria Beatriz Manrique Ardila: 
I found hosting the bi-weekly coffee chats to be an enjoyable and valuable experience. It provided a space to discuss topics that are not often addressed and allowed for diverse perspectives to be shared.

research and intervention therapy autism

Seemran Mishra: 
One significant challenge I felt was motivating my peers to genuinely engage with the DEI topic and actively participate in related activities, given the workload surrounding academics and internship/job hunting. To address this, I added an element of fun to coffee chats. For example, I hosted trivia sessions for my fellow students, which created an enjoyable and interactive environment that encouraged their involvement.

During the initial days of the fellowship, I became a focal point for students seeking assistance and support. Being approached with a wide range of issues, I strived to address their needs and provided guidance wherever possible, acting as a liaison between the iii staff and the student community.

What is your favorite thing that you worked on during your time as a DEI fellow?

potluck dinner in the studio

Maria Beatriz Manrique Ardila: 
During the Fall 2022 semester, I organized a potluck dinner for the MIIPS students. Students were each encouraged to bring a dish from their cultural heritage and we all enjoyed trying each other’s dishes. The event provided an opportunity for our classmates to come together and share their respective cultural cuisines, while also fostering a sense of community among the participants. The feedback from the attendees was overwhelmingly positive. I am proud to have been a part of it.

lunar new year celebration

Seemran Mishra: 
There were several aspects that brought great fulfillment to my role: First, the opportunity to acquire extensive knowledge about accessibility practices and delve deeper into the intricacies of implementing effective DEI initiatives was truly rewarding. Also, I had the privilege of organizing and hosting large cultural events, including Diwali and Lunar New Year celebrations, which not only brought the community together, but also fostered a sense of inclusivity and appreciation for diverse traditions.

Furthermore, organizing professional events such as "DEI Insights in Tech" provided a platform to explore the intersection of AI and diversity, a subject I am deeply passionate about. One of the most impactful experiences was participating in an Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) workshop. This immersive workshop allowed me to delve into topics such as social identity, belonging, and effective communication. The insights gained from this experience enriched my understanding of the complexities surrounding these issues and further fueled my dedication to fostering inclusivity and meaningful dialogue.

Any other reflections you’d like to share?

studio group photo reflections

Maria Beatriz Manrique Ardila: 
I believe that the work of promoting DEI is crucial for creating a more equitable and just society. It requires ongoing reflection, learning, and action, and there is always room for improvement. I am so honored that I had this opportunity during my time at CMU.

silicon valley coffee chat

Seemran Mishra: 
During the bi-weekly coffee chats, I engaged in meaningful conversations with my batchmates that allowed me to gain deeper insights into their experiences, challenges, and aspirations. The power of open dialogue and active listening in creating an inclusive environment cannot be overstated. This platform evaluated my own biases, assumptions, and privileges and provided me with ways to approach my everyday life with a greater sense of humility and empathy. I want to express my gratitude to Leia Delabahan, whose support and supervision have been instrumental in my growth throughout the fellowship.

Working with Maria,  the DEI fellow in Pittsburgh, was an absolute pleasure, and our discussions enhanced my perspective on a wide spectrum of topics. In conclusion, this year has been a journey of responsibility, growth, and the understanding of the need for small and effective goals to enhance people’s perspectives, one individual at a time. The insights I gained will continue to shape my future endeavors in championing diversity, equity, and inclusion.


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