Joel Alejandro Mejia

 

I joined the Changemaker Faculty Fellows Development Program to gain the theoretical concepts and practical tools to engage in social justice advocacy. I was interested in learning more about how social justice and changemaking approaches work toward eliminating issues of inequity in our communities. I know that in order to make change happen I needed to continue learning from others and reflect on my role as an educator, researcher, and member of the community. Paulo Freire emphasized the importance of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action. Freire also argued that we need to stop regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and see them as individuals who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, and historically oppressed. The ways of knowing and meaning-making practices of members of our communities should not be silenced or sanctioned. We need to fight alongside the oppressed and not make only pious, sentimental, or individualistic gestures.


As a Changemaker Faculty Fellow, I knew that I could engage in activities and practices to learn from others and collaborate with faculty, staff, students, stakeholders, and the community to achieve collective impact. The Changemaker Faculty Fellows Development Program became the vehicle to fight alongside the oppressed and support their own quest to liberation. I believe that the Program provided the space for synergistic interactions with faculty, staff, students and the community to achieve institutional change and equity. As a Latinx, I wanted to be part of this initiative to empower our communities and together create new solutions to problems of equity, access, education, and social policy.


I applied to the Changemaker Faculty Fellows Development Program because I believe that it is important to acknowledge, value, and validate the knowledge, skills, and practices of people of color in our communities that are frequently silenced. The program gave me the opportunity to interact with people across different disciplines who have the common goal to make change happen. I joined to learn more about policy, how to be more engaged and participate in action research to enact change toward social justice, and be part of the university-wide Vision and Pathways to 2024. I was very interested in learning more about how to form cooperative relationships with faculty, staff, students, community members and stakeholders to plan strategic action for change, participate in engaged interdisciplinary scholarship, expand access and inclusion initiatives, monitor the problems and effects of changes, and reflect on the value and consequences of the changes implemented. I wanted to be able to bring all that knowledge and everything I learned through the program to my classroom and encourage others to engage collectively to develop a critical consciousness and have the ability to perceive social, political, and economic oppression and to take action against those oppressive forces.


For the past few years, I have worked on issues related to access to engineering education, literacy, and equity in STEM. For instance, the number of Latinx students in the K-12 population is constantly growing but Latinx are disproportionately not pursuing careers in engineering. At the foundation of this problem lies a deficit of critical sociocultural knowledge about these students. Although Latinx adolescents bring a wealth of knowledge, skills, and practices into the classroom, they are often unacknowledged. Dismantling prevailing notions of educational access and opportunity is critical for engineering and STEM education policy, practice, and research. Often, the narratives of people of color are omitted from the engineering curriculum. One of my goals as a Changemaker Faculty Fellow is to learn more about the synergies between research, teaching, and service that can help me continue working on this area. I also want to connect with other researchers and educators in other disciplines that can help me elaborate more robust approaches to tackle these important issues.


I believe that I can bring my research, teaching, and personal expertise and experiences to the table and contribute to the larger effort of achieving equity and social justice through engineering education and interdisciplinary collaboration. I would like to share this knowledge with others, learn from others, and together work toward a common goal.


I also believe that as an educator I can share with other Fellows some of the strategies I have used in the classroom to integrate social justice into the curriculum and how that translates into culturally responsive education. I am currently teaching an engineering and social justice and course that seeks to help students understand how engineering designs, systems, processes, and products impact society, and reflect on our roles as engineers to achieve true change in the world. Students also learn about social responsibility, unequal power relationships, and reflect on their own privilege. I believe that all these efforts have had an impact on my students and colleagues, and influenced the ways we talk about diversity, equity, and transformation in engineering.