Building Faculty Buy-In

for Entrepreneurial Mindset

The pace of change in academia is often slower than other arenas, such as industry; however, this reflects academic culture. But don’t mistake slowness for wholesale rejection of change. As recently as the 1950’s, science, math, and engineering were not considered appropriate subjects for a college curriculum. Today we believe that no student should graduate without familiarity with STEM. Adopting EML is just the next stage in this educational revolution!
- Julia Williams, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


Building Faculty Buy-In for Entrepreneurial Mindset

by Julia Williams, February 26, 2017

There is nothing more thrilling than introducing entrepreneurially minded learning (EML) to your class. You may have attended a KEEN National Conference where you participated in an EML workshop or heard a keynote speaker extol the benefits of EML for students and to faculty. And because your classroom is your domain, it is also thrilling to implement concrete changes with regard to EML and see their immediate impact. 

But what happens when you try to expand EML beyond your own classroom, the domain that you control?

In many ways, your situation is comparable to a stone thrown into a pool. You see the initial effect of EML on you and your students, and it is natural to want to see those effects ripple out, to impact other faculty and their students as well. 

So you talk to colleagues in the hall about EML. You schedule a session with other faculty to show EML’s benefits. You are certain that everything that is good about EML is clear to others. Who could argue against it? 

Then one day, in the middle of a department meeting, you encounter resistance and rejection from colleagues who just last week seemed to be interested and enthused.

Creating at the winter conference

The situation described here is one that proponents of EML face, and it is a situation that anyone who tries to make change in academia knows well. Despite the clear arguments regarding the benefits of EML, even data that demonstrates its benefits for students, EML advocates sometimes discover that making change beyond their own classrooms can be daunting. 

Clearly, to make change on campus, we must enlist others to adopt EML and to see its benefits as we do. As faculty in technical fields, we often marshal data in order to make the case, but data is not often the most persuasive strategy to use with “CAVE” people—“Colleagues Against Virtually Everything!”

Tackling the Change Challenge

So let’s tackle the change challenge from a different angle, focusing first on the people who we want to join us in adopting EML in the classroom. When we encounter resistance to any change to teaching, we may be tempted to see this as evidence that faculty don’t want change, they don’t like change, they are incapable of change. 

Looked at from a different angle, resistance to change could just as likely be a response to loss of identity. Unlike many other professions, college teaching is almost completely under the control of an individual. For that reason, a challenge to teaching (in the form of implied criticism of the individual’s method or approach to teaching) can be interpreted as criticism of the individual themselves. If, for instance, I have been in the classroom for many years (as it happens I have), I may interpret the suggestion to adopt EML as a criticism about my teaching, as if I am not doing it right. Not doing it right means, in essence, that I am not “right,” e.g., I am not professional, not an expert. 

Understanding this aspect of change can be helpful when you hear from colleagues that your EML idea is a fad, potentially damaging to students, or a threat to the very existence of the college or university.

In addition to identity, we need to employ persuasion strategies in order to both manage naysayers (who are probably a vocal but small minority) and to recruit potential adopters (who are probably less vocal but more numerous). 

One important resource for persuasion strategies is the book Buy In: Saving Your Idea from Getting Shot Down, by Kotter and Whitehead. The authors have identified a series of often-heard objections to change projects, and they have matched the objections to concrete responses that help you deflect the vocal naysayers and open up room for others to move toward your position.

Buy In: Saving Your Idea from Getting Shot Down

Making Academic Change Happen (MACH)

Learning to promote your change project is a new area for most faculty, but there are resources to help you learn these new skills. At Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, we have been offering the Making Academic Change Happen (MACH) Workshop as a resource to change agents. In the three day workshop, we deploy a curriculum based on the organizational change literature, translating that theory into practical, concrete techniques that are applicable to many different academic change situations and contexts.

Since its inception in 2012, the MACH Workshop has drawn attendees from across the United States and from abroad. Among the individuals and teams who have participated are those from several KEEN institutions, such as Arizona State University, James Madison University, and Lawrence Technological University, to name a few.

engineering and computer science faculty

In addition, members of the MACH facilitation team have provided customized change curriculum for the 13 current recipients of the National Science Foundation Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments (RED) grants. 

The RED teams bring together engineering and computer science faculty, engineering education faculty, social science faculty, and organizational change experts in order to transform education in profound ways. In our MACH role, we are offering concrete, practical strategies and ongoing support to education change leaders as they activate their projects and form a national leadership cohort for change.

The Persuasion Activity

At MACH, our focus is your change project, and we have translated Kotter and Whitehead’s research on persuasion into a hands-on activity in which you can practice encountering and diffusing objections to your EML project. 

Take, for instance, this particular scenario: Your department chair stands up in the meeting and says, “By introducing this EML project, you are abandoning our traditional values!”

We ask MACH attendees to practice a four-step tactic to handle this scenario: 

Step 1: Acknowledge and deflect 

Step 2: Generalize in your favor 

Step 3: Provide a familiar example 

Step 4: Summarize in your favor

In order to support the tactic, we have developed a set of “Buy In Cards” that provide both the typical objections (such as the department chair’s above) with effective responses. By having some scripted responses ready, MACH attendees find they are better prepared and more confident to take on naysayers and recruit other faculty to EML.

Adopting EML is the next stage

The pace of change in academia is often slower than other arenas, such as industry; however, this reflects academic culture. But don’t mistake slowness for wholesale rejection of change. As recently as the 1950’s, science, math, and engineering were not considered appropriate subjects for a college curriculum. 

Today we believe that no student should graduate without familiarity with STEM. Adopting EML is just the next stage in this educational revolution!

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Meet the Author

Julia Williams

Julia Williams, Professor of English, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Julia joined the faculty of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 1992, then assumed duties as Executive Director of the Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment in 2005. In 2016, she was appointed Interim Dean of Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities. In 2019, she returned to the faculty teaching courses in engineering communication. Julia has received numerous awards including the 2015 Schlesinger Award (IEEE Professional Communication Society), and the 2010 Sterling Olmsted Award (ASEE Liberal Education Division).

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