Michele Cooke Recognized for Leadership in Inclusive Teaching

Michele Cooke
Michele Cooke

The International Association for Geoscience Diversity recently named Michele Cooke, geosciences, as the recipient of its 2020 International Association for Geoscience Diversity Inclusive Geoscience Education and Research Award for her work as a “foundational leader in accessible and inclusive geoscience teaching in both the classroom and field for over 20 years, all while maintaining a successful research career in geomechanics and structural geology.

The Awards Committee further recognizes Cooke as “a strong advocate for accessibility and inclusion not only within your department and college, but also in geoscience education abroad. In addition, your continued support of D/deaf and hard-of-hearing geoscience students and teachers from primary to postsecondary education exemplifies the IAGD community and the IGER award. You are actively being the change we want to see in the geosciences and across all STEM disciplines.”

Former geosciences department head Julie Brigham-Grette says of Cooke, “Michele is leader in all she does. Michele is known nationally and internationally for the development and testing of numerical modeling tools to explore and understand the mechanics of rock deformation in Earth’s upper crust, including fractures, such as joints and faults, as well as folds. She has transformed how we analyze fault growthand was awarded the CNS Outstanding Research Award in 2018. This new award in inclusive teaching and mentoring celebrates the tremendous compassion she has for others and how that compassion shows in every aspect of her professional life.”

Cooke writes of her honor, “Improving inclusion and access permeates every aspect of my teaching and service. The framework of universal design in teaching posits that we can find ways to teach that allow all students full access and equal participation. If we can take this framework and universal design academia, then we may see real strides for equity and inclusion. We have a long way to go for Every Body, including women’s bodies, black and brown bodies, disabled bodies and queer bodies, to have equitable access within academia.”

She adds that her “small contributions” to this effort have drawn on her own life experiences and role within the university. “Over twenty years ago, I wrote a paper in the ‘Journal of Geoscience Education’on creating inclusive geologic field trips – a project I undertook while in graduate school,” she recalls.

“Over ten years ago, I landed an NSF CAREER grant and the outreach component of the project involved designing curriculum and running field trips for students and teachers at schools for the deaf. Another more recent example is that Ana Caicedo and I set up a blog by and for deaf and hard-of-hearing academics called The Mind Hears.”

The blog provides a forum for deaf and hard-of-hearing academics at all career stages to crowd-source strategies for success within academia, she adds. “Rather than developing solutions in isolation on our own, the blog provides a way to share ideas. I’ve hosted dinners for deaf and hard of hearing geoscientists at large conferences and worked to build a support network. I’ve worked with professional organizations to improve the accessibility of their operations and meetings.”

Further, Cooke points out that as graduate program director for geosciences, she has led many changes to the program that increase inclusions and equity, such as designing and implementing holistic review of graduate school applicants, adding transparency to policies, implementing and advocating for use of live-captioning for all department presentations.

She also initiated department-wide professional development programs, helped to institute a policy that allows participants to talk to their neighbor for two minutes after department talks and before starting the Q&A, helped to redesign the department’s first-year graduate seminars to increase transparency for how graduate school works and worked to provide students with strategies for success.

“To me, all of these efforts, big or small, that improve the way we do things are rooted in increasing accessibility, diversity, inclusion and equity. Many aspects of academia are not inclusive. Every day we all need to critically assess what we do and look for ways to universal design academia,” she says.