Cover Letter

As a queer, immigrant, scholar and teacher educator of color, the intersections of my identities informs the critical questions I raise in technological fields through my research and teaching. In this letter, I have summarized how in my pedagogy-oriented scholarly research, teaching, and service, I have continued to embody and align with racial, caste and gender equity issues that are a part of the fabric of the institutions we serve. I share examples that have shaped how I contribute toward educational equity through practice, research, and policy.

Scholarship. Overall, my research objective has been two folds: (a) integrating culturally responsive/sustaining pedagogies in CS and STEM disciplines to better support faculty, and (b) fostering creative play and experience-based learning with digital technology. These objectives guide how I can contribute towards helping teachers and faculty respectfully integrate cultural and land-based knowledge of Black, Hispanic, & Indigenous communities that have been omitted and marginalized in science, math, & engineering education (Eve Tuck & Marcia McKenzie, 2014). I plan to scale up these efforts going forward.

My methodology is framed by social constructivist and situated views of knowledge, paired with critical theories such as intersectional technofeminism and culturally sustaining pedagogy. Through these lenses, I study culturally sustaining ways of teaching with technology in CS and STEM disciplines at the K-12 and higher education level.

STEM disciplines for decades have been governed by white heteronormative approaches of teaching & learning. As a queer critical scholar of color and teacher educator, I find it my responsibility to counter the dominant narratives in STEM disciplines and provide critical lenses that help uplift historically disenfranchised students and womxn of color towards a successful technological career path, where success is culturally defined. For instance, through an independent mixed-method research, I found how a lack of belonging in CS women majors is largely reflective of a white male dominated gendered pedagogical approach that is a part of most CS undergraduate programs and is largely responsible for dissuading women from persisting in computing majors (Mehta, AERA 2020, SITE 2020, SITE 2019, RWE, 2019). My intersectional identities as a critical computer science educator, teacher educator, and woman of color are central to my work on broadening participation of students of color and women in K-12 and undergraduate computer science programs (Mehta, manuscript, 2021; Mehta & Yadav, SITE 2020, AERA 2019; RWE Conference 2018).

In my dissertation, for instance, I explore computer science faculty’s beliefs on using a culturally responsive computing approach and leveraging community-based resources in teaching CS courses at the undergraduate level (Mehta, manuscript 2021). I conducted interviews with CS faculty in top-ranking universities to conduct a thematic analysis of challenges to implementing culturally responsive computing. My findings suggest that faculty—although apprehensive towards leveraging culturally responsive community-based resources—acknowledged that universities and colleges need to act towards supporting them in understanding critical pedagogy and developing connections with the community. My findings further highlight use of race-neutral language in the design of curriculum, which conceals unequal power relationships that inform group identities of historically disenfranchised students. “Neutrality” in curriculum design was evident in participant responses suggesting a positionality that computer science is a culture-neutral, nonsocial realm where faculty focus on how not to make the dominant group (white students) uncomfortable by choosing to discuss racial issues rather than making students of color feel supported, respected, and welcome in these spaces.

This view of neutrality is not limited to faculty alone, through a collaborative research we observed it in professionals as well. Over the past two years, I collaborated on a study that examined educational technologists’ views on how the politics and values of equity, diversity, and inclusivity are addressed and perceived as part of design and development processes of educational programming software (Lachney, Mehta, Dunbar & Opps, AERA 2021). A subset of our results suggests that technologists in their design took a neutral stance towards issues of race and gender and towards settling the issue of bias in design. The assumptions that technologies are neutral or ‘colorblind’ hides how racialized assumptions get backed into our devices and techno-social systems (Ruha Benjamin, 2019). It perpetuates ideologies that govern many white supremacist views, the views of the dominant white men who are a majority in technical fields and have a say in the majoritarian view to take the decision for people of color.

My transdisciplinary work indicates a need for critically framed self-sustaining teacher preparation and faculty professional development in computer science undergraduate and graduate level degrees. My work raises questions and pushes university leaders to rethink investing resources in training CS faculty -who receive no professional training in applying theories of learning to their teaching- in anti-Black and anti-racist pedagogical approaches and creating explicit culturally appropriate and historically mindful curricular spaces for Black, Latinx, & Indigenous. Clearly, my work pushes white students to value culturally diverse perspectives in the design and development of software and algorithms making the coding systems that computer scientists develop less biased (Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression, 2018). It is important that university leaders are held accountable for upholding white supremacist thoughts and ideologies that in turn shape racist institutional policies that do not provide students of color particularly from low-SES backgrounds with the flexibility and the financial support that they need to continue their education resulting in a higher number of first-year dropouts in colleges. It suggests a need for computer scientists & faculty to work with social scientists, social justice scholars, and local community leaders with expertise in understanding and supporting disenfranchised communities. This work necessitates that success in a CRC setting is not defined by quantitative measures of student achievement alone and urges researchers to construct new methods for determining nuanced outcomes that emphasize activating student cultural knowledge into a digital product.

With the MSUrban STEM Teaching Fellowship program, I worked as one of the lead researchers with Chicago Public School (CPS) Urban STEM teachers, where we studied experience-based learning and TPACK approach towards promoting a creative and wonder-driven perspective in teaching and learning STEM disciplines at the K12 level (Seals, Mehta, Graves-Wolf & Marcotte, 2017). Urban schoolteachers through this program successfully designed their unique pedagogical approaches to engage their students in science and math content by creatively repurposing technology available and accessible to them (Mehta, Mehta & Seals, 2017). Our research suggested that teacher’s self-efficacy increased significantly over time as part of a creativity and wonder-driven pedagogy (Seals, Mehta, Berzina-Pitcher & Graves-Wolf, 2017). More importantly, I witnessed how teachers of color, despite having access to less resources at school, were still creatively using their skills and finances to provide and create the best learning experiences for their students. This work fostered creative play among teachers using digital technologies like google glass and macro lens where they experienced and interacted with nature and developed creative lesson plans using these technologies to implement in their classes.

CS Curriculum Development Experience. During the pandemic, on a project for University of Michigan, I collaborated with a high school math/computer science teacher at Albany High School, New York, to create a course incorporating culturally situated design tools (CSDT) that allow students to interconnect African American, Indigenous, and Latinx cultural practices with math and science concepts. As a curriculum developer, I brought with me my experience in computer programming, an in-depth understanding of culturally sustaining pedagogy and CSTA standards and understanding of K12 math and science concepts & standards. We designed four units that introduced students to using and manipulating coding blocks in CSDT web applications and develop individualized projects. I created coding projects for students using CSnap block-based programming language to design cultural artifacts like quilts and cornrow curves. These projects allowed students to explore the potential of their art, math and coding skills and value its interconnectedness to different cultural practices. Furthermore, connecting computing concepts like functions, conditionals, arrays, strings, and variables to the cultural history of Black, Indigenous and Latinx students can help students to envision themselves as digital innovators who have an equal right to pursue a technical computer science education. With the pace of digital technological dominance in our society, I see an urgent need in computer science education to integrate social justice and equity issues.

Teaching Experience. Overall, I have taught 8 teacher education graduate and undergraduate level courses on educational technology, creativity, educational psychology, and research methods at Michigan State University, in face-to-face, online, and hybrid formats. Collaborating on creative pedagogical approaches across STEM and social sciences content areas, I encourage community-based practices with my teachers grounded in critical and culturally sustaining pedagogy in using digital technologies and skills like computational thinking and coding to solve problems of practice. I am equally comfortable teaching synchronously and asynchronously. The courses I have taught include:

– 3 graduate-level technology courses in online and hybrid formats (6 sections) (20-25 student
– 4 undergraduate-level teacher education and technology courses in face-to-face, online, and hybrid formats (6 sections) (25-30 students)
– 1 graduate-level research methods course in online format (2 sections, 18-20 students per section)

As a critical teacher educator, I draw heavily from my experience in university and college settings in US and India. Prior to moving to the US, I taught Masters-level students from low-SES backgrounds in India (35-40 students). For last six years, I have been working with teachers (in-service and pre-service) and teacher educators serving diverse and disenfranchised student populations located in and around Detroit, Dearborn, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Chicago K-12 settings. My teaching evaluations have been consistently high.

Service. I am presently working with a non-profit group called Genesis based in Oakland, CA. Working with seniors from a local high school, we are attempting to convince the school and district board in the Pleasanton Unified School District systems understand why the educational dollars being invested in hiring school resource officers and law enforcement need to be redirected towards prevention, early intervention, and mental health care for youth. I have also served as a department steward for the Graduate Employees Union (GEU) at MSU to promote a healthy work culture to make MSU a more democratic, equitable, and diverse community, where everyone’s work is valued and respected. Furthermore, extending the initiatives of the Women’s March 2017, with two of my colleagues at MSU, I established a women’s action-oriented group that aimed to support women and effectively make progressive change in local communities.

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