Carnegie Mellon University

IPS Professor Ignacio Arana Carnegie Mellon

April 22, 2021

Ignacio Arana selected as Provost's Inclusive Teaching Fellow

By Bill Brink

When Ignacio Arana was working on his PhD, he noticed that some foreign students from different cultures and backgrounds did not feel as comfortable in class. As a Latin American and non-native English speaker himself, he could tell that this affected their self-confidence and performance.

Now, Arana, an Assistant Teaching Professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy, is working to ensure none of his students feel that way. He recently received the Provost’s Inclusive Teaching Fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year, which will help the students in his Comparative Politics class, the largest in IPS, feel empowered to participate. 

“Most of the students take it as an elective, and therefore come from other departments,” Arana said. “The class is characteristically ethnically and nationally diverse, and I also have the sense that it integrates students from heterogeneous religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

To boost attendance, participation, and grades, Arana will use targeted exercises and small-group discussions. For years, to illustrate the importance of a functioning state to keep citizens from a constant state of war, he has his students play “rock, paper, scissors” until only one student survives. He plans to use more such activities to discuss the importance of the welfare state, the factors that lead to democratic breakdowns, life under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, differences between parliamentary and presidential systems, social movements, protests, revolutions, and civil wars. Arana will also separate students into groups to foster more engagement.

“I believe that small-group discussions motivate students who do not have a strong sense of belonging to express their voices,” Arana said. “Inhibited students feel less intimidated to share their thoughts in a smaller group, feel more encouraged to interact with peers and to learn from them, and can also gain confidence that their thoughts are acceptable and therefore will be welcome if they share it with the entire class.

The fellowship allows Arana to work with CMU’s Eberly Center, which will help him develop the exercises and gather feedback he can use to further refine his techniques. 

“The interaction with faculty Fellows will also allow me to learn from their classroom experience, especially the challenging situations they have faced and the solutions they found to handle them,” Arana said. “Their experiences are likely to provide good material and ideas to improve my teaching.”