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← Our Work

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)

Laying the groundwork to advance DEI at a global membership organization
An illustration of a physicist with physics-themed symbols and icons in her hair.
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Client Type

Nonprofit membership organization

Location

College Park, MD

Services Provided

  • Facilitation
  • Leadership Development
  • Organizational Strategy
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Surveys & Focus Groups

Project Team

Senior Consultant

Consultant & Project Manager

Consultant & Analyst

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) is a global professional physics education association dedicated to physics teaching and learning in K-12 and higher education.

What the Client Needed

Over the past few years a small, but mighty, group of AAPT members have launched a variety of DEI initiatives, mostly focused on programming and education, across the organization. Despite their hard work, DEI has not been able to stick or scale. The main reasons their efforts have gotten stuck boils down to the three biggest barriers to equity: power, money, and time.

  • Power: AAPT members are volunteers. Regardless of their dedication to DEI, many member leaders lacked decision-making authority to move their work forward.
  • Money: Until recently, AAPT has not invested in DEI the same way they invest in their other organization priorities.
  • Time: Educators are navigating increasingly complex and demanding “day-jobs,” and those who have been historically excluded from physics face an even higher cultural tax at their institutions. Most AAPT members have little time for any volunteer effort, let alone creating and implementing DEI strategy.

Data collection efforts, including a customized member survey and a number of focus groups, allowed Brevity & Wit to identify the following key barriers:

  1. Like in any academic field, unconscious bias and blatant discrimination are pervasive across physics education, creating unwelcoming and even unsafe inequities that prevent people with marginalized identities from advancing, or even entering, the field.
  2. A small group of legacy members are vocal about their resistance to DEI.
  3. Members who have been historically excluded report they experience lower inclusion and belonging than AAPT members of majority groups, making retention of educators who have been historically excluded quite challenging.

What We Did

With an organization-wide strategic planning process already underway, AAPT reached out to Brevity & Wit to help them weave DEI into the next chapter for their organization. Over an 8-month partnership, we leveraged our theory of change to roll-out this multi-phased approach:

  • Collected and analyzed data to find enablers, barriers, and opportunities.
  • Led a DEI Task Force to identify the most pressing DEI issues, create a set of guiding principles for staff and members, and create a DEI roadmap with action items and metrics to sustain and scale DEI across the organization.
  • Coached and developed leaders in the organization and on the Task Force so that any recommended changes had a chance of sticking.
  • Helped co-create AAPT’s DEI Vision, a “north star” for the next five years.
  • Define and communicate to staff and members why AAPT was investing in DEI and how it relates to their organizational mission.
  • Create a DEI Strategic Communications plan.

 

  • Facilitated a conversation with members who felt particularly marginalized in order to heal some organizational scars and allow the organization to move forward with a more formalized plan for inclusion and equity.
  • Draft an evolved DEI Governance Structure that builds on previous organization efforts to prioritize DEI. The proposed structure was designed to retain member volunteers, clarify roles and decision-making processes, and maximize collaboration across the many different structures that exist (both within and outside of AAPT) to advance DEI in physics education.

Our Impact

These foundational change efforts helped AAPT lay the groundwork for DEI growth. Members are enthusiastic about the Board-approved unique DEI value proposition, vision, and guiding principles. AAPT shared these foundational elements to their DEI strategy on their website.

AAPT has also incorporated their DEI Roadmap into its 2022 organization-wide Strategic Plan. Understanding that they can’t tackle everything at once, AAPT will prioritize these two high-level goals, with corresponding strategies and success metrics, over the next few years:

  1. More accessible and inclusive AAPT meetings and events
  2. Increased DEI education, professional development, and skill-building opportunities for members.

Finally, at the time this was written (April 2023) AAPT is in the final stages of restructuring their governance structure to sustain the current work, ensure mutual accountability, and most importantly, grow and scale its efforts over time.

“I really appreciated the expert guidance that Brevity & Wit provided during the project. Not only did they help keep the project on track but they helped us bring in many voices as we moved through the project. The Brevity & Wit staff was able to take broad feedback and use their expertise to assist us in creating buy-in and excellent deliverables that reflect our values and mission. The staff came with lots of positive energy! We love working with them! We wish that the relationship could have continued but the Brevity & Wit team was able to create an excellent pathway for staff and volunteers to take over the project once the engagement ended. We are continuing to move forward although not as fast as with the Brevity & Wit team. I also appreciated the reminders from the Brevity & Wit staff that we should not over promise what we can accomplish. Change, especially in the area of DEI, takes time.”

Beth Cunningham, AAPT CEO

“It was a joy to work with the Brevity & Wit team on this project. There were many places where their actions were key to progress being made. They had the expertise to ask the right questions, and from there were able to concisely summarize the thoughts and feedback of the task force members. This was invaluable to leadership, and made advancement both smooth and fast. Additionally, they were well-equipped to deal with a group of people who had a broad range in equity knowledge and background. This enabled people who were newer to the work to make quick gains, and also reduced cultural taxation upon those with more experience. As Brevity & Wit were also working with our Board, they were able to provide insights that might not have been apparent to either body on its own, and this was also invaluable. I’d work with them again in a heartbeat.”

David Marasco, Ph.D. Physics Professor, Foothill College Co-Chair, DEI Task Force, American Association of Physics Teachers