In the spirit of “hack-a-thons” that build solutions, we leveraged resources from NSF Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), ADVANCE, and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Bridge to the Doctorate programs to co-develop “hacking diversity in STEM” events for underrepresented groups (URG) in STEM. These activities were carried out at STEM conferences, serving participants who were at the conference, as well as external viewers online. The events included “hacking challenges” and solicited responses to issues experienced by distinct levels of participants: incoming graduate students, continuing graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. The 2015 and 2016 hacking activities, resulted in thousands of responses across social media platforms, and our activity-specific hashtag was a trending topic. Assistance from a leading academic media laboratory, and other national hackathons, influenced the activity’s structure. The activity for students served as a hacking “intervention” to improve underrepresented graduate students’ perception of sense of community, and retention at both the course level and dissertation stages. The sessions for postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and administrators looked at issues that hindered career advancement. The crowd-sourcing, dynamic activities engaged URG STEM mentors who served as coaches in-person and online. A content analysis of the student data showed that broad themes included tackling student isolation, issues of time management, managing expectations of family members, understanding expectations of academic advisors, and success strategies for completing the dissertation. The sessions for faculty and professionals yielded suggestions for professional advancement, and solutions to issues affecting career-life balance. As an example, the career-life balance activity for women in engineering was carried out over Twitter with a 2-hour international discussion session online that preceded a two-hour in-person conference session at an engineering conference. This session with women in engineering as the lead coaches online, yielded the following themes: attention to stress triggers, ways to achieve balance, and professional efficiency. The most important outcomes were part of the in-person discussion that grew out of the online discussion two-hours prior, where Latina and African-American women engineers within positions of power discussed ways that they were challenging norms to develop new professional structures to improve strategies for younger women and others from other underrepresented groups. These structures included developing career-development groups to work on materials to advance careers, influencing family leave policies, and deciding to verbally champion issues that affect students and peers in faculty and higher-level academic administrative meetings. This paper will share ways that these structured social media hacking activities, designed for mentoring and coupled with in-person connections, have leveraged social science theories of sense of belonging and building cultural wealth. Further, these hybridized hacking activities, deliberately designed to mentor underrepresented groups in STEM, access a virtual form of Oldenburg’s (2001) “third place” which layers progress within the alternative space of the hacking activity (purposely located away from the academic institution.) This paper will show results from content analysis of responses with our activity-specific hashtag, and will suggest ways to develop similar, impactful activities to mentor and retain underrepresented groups in STEM.
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