Andrea Haverkamp is a PhD candidate in Environmental Engineering, with a minor in Queer Studies at Oregon State University. Her work is in engineering education, which explores the student and faculty experiences in engineering, right from curriculum to learning practices and pedagogy and also looks at diversity, inclusion and equity in the classroom.
Haverkamp’s work is deeply informed by the feminist research methods, queer and gender theory and centers the trans and gender nonconforming undergraduate students. She is working on a three-year research project funded by the National Science Foundation, which will have trans and gender noncomforming undergrad students involved at every step.
Haverkamp’s research blends education and queer studies together and is framed around resiliency and desire instead of deficit and damage. “A lot of research involving historically marginalized and underrepresented groups centers on the negative experiences that group has or what they may be lacking,” she explains, “instead this research starts out with a framework that says trans and gender nonconforming students are succeeding are resilient and have techniques, strategies and skills that no one else has.”
Haverkamp is also President of the Coalition of Graduate employees (CGE), representing over 1800 graduate employees at OSU, “I think labor union activism is a critical action-oriented feminist praxis,” she says.
Haverkamp completed her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She also has a Master’s in Environmental Engineering, which she completed here at Oregon State University, where she also received a Graduate Certificate in College & University Teaching.
What led you to bring in the queer studies framework into your research?
Gender is such a wonderful, complex, rich, nuanced, social tapestry over all of our lives and when I looked at this [engineering] research, I was very shocked to see that these perspectives were never included. I felt we need a fundamental shift in how we look at gender for this gender-imbalanced profession to really get at the root of how gender conformity, cisnormativity, racialization of gender, all interact.
From a very young age I was passionate about issues of equity, inequality, social justice and peace and I found it very lacking in engineering. I have struggled to find a place in engineering where I felt I belonged. While I was here doing my Master’s I also had the chance to sit in on the Introduction to Queer Studies with Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill in 2014. It changed my life. Same with learning about engineering education research. When I came here for my PhD I wondered how can I mix these two together and that is what led me to do my minor in queer studies which has been so transformative.
What inspires you to teach?
What I love most about teaching I learned from being a student. What I've loved being a student are “ah-ha” moments where your mind is opened. I want my students to have those “ah-ha” moments.
I see my role as a teacher as being their partner in figuring out where those moments are and being with students to foster and cultivate them, to grow them and make them bloom. I think how that really comes about is by teaching topics that will queer the limit of what is normally taught in engineering.
What are your learnings as a teacher?
A great deal of compassion and empathy. In the courses I have taught or assisted on, I have been able to see so much of myself in students. Our role as a teacher is to design a course in such a way that if we see or if we perceive or feel like students are going through a hard time especially week 5 and 6, to go a little easy. What I learned through seven years of engineering courses are rigid wrong and right answers. What I’ve learned through WGSS and from my time being a GTA in my PhD program is growth-oriented expectations allow you to meet the students where they are so that we don't police right and wrong.
Having such a unique background, being from environmental engineering and having a QS minor, how has being part of the WGSS community influenced you and shaped you as a person?
My first week in WGSS and QS courses was a complete paradigm shift in how I interacted with learning, reading, writing with other people in the classroom, with teachers and with myself. It was transformative and in so many ways it pushed my academic trajectory in ways that no other program could have. We have created such disciplinary borders, in queer theory we look at how society has created such rigid categories of identity, and try to tease them apart. We have done the same in academia, categories of what is humanities and engineering. I think being able to walk through those worlds have allowed me to deconstruct those categories and move beyond what interdisciplinary is, toward notions of transdisciplinary so transcending those disciplinary boundaries; or undisciplinary- not belonging.
Who have been some feminist influences in your life and why?
The work of Sara Ahmed right now continues to transformatively change the way I view race and gender, sexuality and physical spaces and the way I move through the world. Angela Davis has been and continues to be such a powerful voice for liberation, and has shown up physically in so many struggles. Emma Goldman, who stood up for sexual freedom for women's autonomy, for free expression of gender and sexuality and direct confrontation of the state in the early 1900s.
What are some misconceptions you have heard about feminism?
A lot of misconceptions I have heard in my long time in engineering about feminism is that it’s all emotions. Denial of any scholarly theoretical substance, or feminism as sheer demographics like-if there are more women it must be better, that feminism looks like just a change in bodies in the room instead of a change in the relations between bodies.
With your background in engineering and WGSS, going into pedagogy, are there any gaps, anything you see missing in the teaching approaches in STEM fields specifically that you want to address with your unique research focus?
There are two courses right in the forefront of my imagination that after I graduate and hopefully find a position somewhere that I want to teach more than anything else. A course on "Engineering Ethics, Militarism and War." Engineers are uniquely situated at nearly every point of the Military Industrial Complex, from the gathering and refining of rare earth minerals and petroleum, which are then used in factories, in design firms, which engineer implements of war, missiles, tanks, rockets, bulletproof vests, guns. In all of these things there are engineers deeply involved.We are taught not to think of our work as political. We need to see the interconnectedness of our work and war, and what it is predicated on. I also think the Prison Industrial Complex and Military Industrial Complex are weaved tightly into that class. The other class I want to teach is on engineering and social justice. Engineering as a discipline is built on hegemonic corporate diversity and inclusion.
What are some challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The challenges are many and frequent. Just today I was part of a conversation around advancing equity and inclusion in an organization. The disciplinary differences are so great that something I feel is fairly necessary is the concept of systems of oppression, of institutional power and the way privilege is predicated upon domination. These are topics that I don't think have yet entered the engineering education mainstream.
I have had difficulty in engineering education contexts due to the way the conversations are being held. Social justice is still not a term that is frequently used and if it is, it is fairly marginalized. In terms of writing there is a specific writing style of technical writing, of very data-driven research numbers measures, quantitative surveys. That is the dominant norm in engineering education, which is very different than how I would like to write: experientially, cooperatively, meaningfully, building long term relationships.
I think a lot of the challenges I run into are a level of political disengagement in engineering, and a level of devaluing feminist ways of knowing and being.
Would you describe yourself as an activist? What does activism mean to you?
Activism is one part of putting theory into action. A lot of theory helps us describe, understand and interpret the way inequity and oppression look in society and may even theorize ways of liberation. A lot of activism can help put actions into those steps so it allows you to say: this is a framework of understanding oppression or liberation, of ways of freedom and justice and care. Activism helps you enact that.
Activism to me is also relationship building. A lot of the work that we do between ourselves and a book must be put in conversation with society and that can only happen with relationships.
Activism is a lot of care, it's a lot of relationship building because at the end of the day, we cannot replicate the structures of work, which are production, commodification, output, measurable accomplishments. That is what capitalism and empire thrust upon us to maintain, and in our activist communities I feel to combat that is a lot of care, it's a lot of nurturing, it’s a lot of relationship building and building joy and love.
Story by Sharadha Kalyanam, PhD student and Graduate Instructor, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University.
Photo by Jacob Le, Orange Media Network.