Fostering “Bridge-Building and Silo-Busting”

photo of jennifer dworschack-kinter and j. dietenberger

Jennifer Dworschack-Kinter and J. Dietenberger. Photo by Elora Hennessey.

Where is the best place to initiate a teaching collaboration that you hadn’t envisioned, with someone you’ve never met, that crosses disciplines and links first year students and seniors?

For UWM instructors Jennifer Dworschack-Kinter and J. Dietenberger, the answer is the Golda Meir Library.

And in their particular case, there is an interesting second question: Who brought them together? Pardon the pun, but that question is the answer.

Dworschack-Kinter, senior lecturer in English, was holding office hours in the Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons’ Grind café one day in 2017 and talking with a former student about the long-running British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who.

She had recently requested her first-year writing class to analyze a video on the casting of a woman as the titular character for the first time in the show’s fifty-year history.

Sitting at the next table, Dietenberger—both an instructor in multiple colleges and a coordinator of a campus tech, business, innovation, and design internship program—overheard the conversation. A Doctor Who fan himself and instructor for upper-level courses that also have a learning objective focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in STEM, he joined in.

They introduced themselves and soon realized that collaborating in some way would further their teaching goals and enrich the experiences of their students.

“I was going to teach a first-year seminar the next fall called Women and Geek Culture—about how the worlds of science fiction, video gaming, and comic books are generally hostile towards women,” Dworschack-Kinter says. “My passion is getting women included in these spaces safely and productively. J. has striven at each professional endeavor of his career to include increasing diversity in professional STEM fields. We learned that our goals aligned perfectly.”

In fall 2017 Dietenberger contributed to DworschackKinter’s syllabus development for her seminar and brought some of his students into the class as invited project evaluators.

He also asked one of her students to present at an event that he and his student teams organized, Diverse IT.

In fall 2018 they combined their two classes for a session, accomplishing some “bridge-building and silo-busting,” Dietenberger says. STEM juniors and seniors cross mentored while the first-year students, with their gender and cultural research, led many of the discussions around inclusivity in STEM.

The two instructors have already presented on their collaboration at a UW System conference on teaching excellence. They are currently planning to propose a jointly taught semester-long course.

How important was the Golda Meir Library in their serendipitous partnership?

“It was because of this place that we were in that it all happened,” Dworschack-Kinter says. “Part of it is the Learning Commons’ wonderful, open space. And part of it is the sense of community that it fosters for faculty, staff and students.”

[Read more about the UWM Libraries’ contributions to student success, research excellence, and community engagement in the Libraries’ 2018-19 Annual Report.]