W1 - Democratizing Engineering Education Through Contemplative and Mindfulness Practices

Pre-Conference Workshops
Yevgeniya V. Zastavker1 , Madhvi J. Venkatesh2
1 Olin College of Engineering
2 Harvard Medical School

Contact information:

Yevgeniya V. Zastavker, Olin College of Engineering, 781-292-2520, yzastavker@olin.edu

Madhvi J. Venkatesh, Harvard Medical School, 617-432-6521, madhvi_venkatesh@hms.harvard.edu

Goal(s) and alignment with FIE goals:

This workshop provides instructors with tools to create STEM learning environments that develop students’ capacity for deeper self-awareness and reflection through contemplative practices. Specifically, this workshop will demonstrate through hands-on and embodied activities how the use of contemplative practices in a classroom environment may allow students to engage in (1) consideration of interdisciplinary perspectives that transcend disciplinary boundaries; (2) the process of being aware about the ways in which engineering applies to collective and individual human experience; (3) sense-making process about human experiences as embodied beings in the physical universe (Krusberg & Ward, 2018); (4) reflecting on themselves as learners with unique ways of knowing; (5) developing skills for open-ended learning environments, including curiosity, empathy, communication, and teamwork. While the non-STEM literature has demonstrated for a number of years the effectiveness of contemplative practices in promoting more inclusive educational environments (Barbezat & Bush, 2013), these pedagogies are only now emerging in engineering curricula. In this workshop we share some of these practices with engineering education audience to create yet another pathway for democratizing engineering learning environments, thereby aligning the goals of this workshop with the aspirations of FIE to provide a platform for sharing educational innovations in engineering and computing education.

Description of topics/subjects/content:

In this workshop, we will leverage a number of contemplative practices, including examples of sensory meditation and visualization, deep listening, beholding, contemplative movement, and critical reflection to co-create a sense of what a STEM classroom might look and feel like when constructed and embodied ways of knowing are engaged in creating an environment that shifts learners’ perception of what is known, how it is known, by whom, and with what tools. We will specifically focus on movement - engagement in group activities using ourselves and our bodies - to first develop a circle of trust with our participants as a way of demonstrating how such an environment may be created in a classroom. Through a series of movement activities, we begin to create a sense community, to see who we are and learn about others, to develop awareness through and of our bodies and senses, to help us be in touch with who we are. At the core of what we are proposing to do lies the practice of mindfulness. Although explicitly holding the root word “mind,” mindfulness practice, in a kind of aikido move, that takes away the power of Western mind/body dualism and gives way to integration of mind and body for the purpose of gaining awareness of oneself (e.g., ongoing cognitive and emotional processes) and Another (e.g., ongoing processes in the physical universe) (Krusberg & Ward, 2018). 

References or explanations of the qualifications of presenters to lead this workshop:

Madhvi J. Venkatesh is a dancer, choreographer, researcher, and educator who co-directs Prakriti Dance and serves as a Lecturer and Associate Director of Graduate Education at Harvard Medical School. As an educator, she explores how movement and dance can convey various curricular concepts from social sciences, mathematics, and science. Her latest project, "Through Fish Eyes," uses the movement vocabulary of the classical Indian dance form Bharata Natyam to raise awareness about dwindling marine ecosystems. In her scholarly work, she is beginning to explore how information/data from various disciplines is represented through artistic movement and what analysis of movement tells us about the people who created it.

Yevgeniya V. Zastavker has been practicing mindfulness and contemplative ways of being since late 90’s and has been moving her educational practice and scholarship into a space of contemplative pedagogies and mindfulness for the past several years. Her autoethnographic work led her to gain voice and redefine her identity as a refugee in the current political climate, a woman in a historically masculinized world of science and engineering, a qualitative scholar in a domain where quantitative scholarship is being privileged, a scientist in a school of engineering, a spiritual worker and a dancer in a world where mind-body-spirit connections are explicitly and intentionally severed.

The presenters have co-created a new course offering for engineering students in which contemplative practices are embedded throughout. They are currently engaged in a research endeavor to understand the rich ways in which this course affected students’ holistic development. Therefore, the presenters have practical and research experience with contemplative practices in an engineering context.


Barbezat, Daniel P., & Bush, Mirabai. (2014). Contemplative Practices in Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Krusberg, Zosia, & Ward, Meredith. (2018). Classical physics and human embodiment: The role of contemplative practice in integrating formal theory and personal experience in the undergraduate physics curriculum. The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry. Vol. 5, No. 1. pp. 87-106.

Workshop agenda:

  1. Introduction (30 min):
    • Arrival: meditation
    • Getting to know each other (“What’s in a name” Contemplative Practice): who we are, who the participants are
  2. What are Contemplative and Mindfulness Practices and Pedagogies? (30 min)
  3. Hands-on / Embodied Activities (90 min)
    • Deep listening
    • Beholding
    • Contemplative movement
    • Critical reflection
  4. Conclusion (30 min)
    • Participant reflections
    • Departure mediation
Anticipated audience:

All FIE participants are invited to join this workshop. Given the nature of this workshop, the maximum number of people we can accommodate is 30.

Description of what attendees will acquire:

The attendees will acquire a basic toolkit to begin thinking about the ways in which they can co-create a space of mindfulness in their learning environments. Through several hands-on and embodied activities used in the workshop, participants will gain an embodied sense of the cognitive and emotional environment more conducive to their students’ learning and, more importantly, an environment that is inclusive of all ways of knowing and being thereby democratizing educational experience they provide for their learners.

Special requirements:

Space for conversations around the tables and open space for movement will be needed. Projector and screen will aid in sharing visuals with the participants.


Anticipated fee: