Diversity

 

I have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about ways that astronomy, and the sciences in general can be more representative of the population.  Currently, underrepresented minorities account for 1% of all astronomers (Stassun 2003).  This is unacceptable.  I am committed to working for policy change and playing an active role in changing the face of astronomy.


When I was at MIT, the department is actively trying to address issues of diversity.  I worked with the chair of the department to discuss various plans of action. In 2009, we sent a large (23 person) MIT contingent of students, faculty and postdocs (well me) to the 2009 National Society of Black Physicists and Hispanic Physicists conference in Nashville (see above photo).  It was quite a success. Several MIT students won awards including graduate student Chris Williams for the best oral presentation in Astronomy/Astrophysics.


As a graduate student, I was an instructor for the summer session of the University of Washington's Upward Bound  program.  Upward Bound is a program that helps underrepresented high school students prepare for college by simulating the college experience during the summer and providing comprehensive advising.  I saw my role in Upward Bound as both a mentor and instructor and took the former very seriously.


During my fourth year of graduate school I worked as a graduate advisor for the McNair Program at the University of Washington.  I advised and mentored UW undergraduates about the graduate school process and the subtleties of research. 


Marcel Agüeros, Kevin Covey and I wrote a Diversity Plan for the astronomy department at UW.  We arranged for several speakers (both external and internal) to come and talk to our department about diversity and have helped implement some of our recommendations.  The plan has received national attention and has helped change the culture of the UW department.


One amazing piece of evidence of the new culture at UW is the Pre Major in Astronomy Program (PreMAP) at UW.  PreMAP is a program that I helped devise in my last year at UW. PreMAP identifies new UW students from underrepresented groups and enrolls them in an astronomy class, gives them additional mentoring and matches them with a research advisor.  The program has been a huge success and has resulted in a significant change in the demographics of UW astronomy majors. The real credit goes to Marcel and Kevin, who put a lot of effort into getting it off the ground while I was writing my thesis.  PreMAP has continued to flourish thanks to a number of students, faculty and staff.  PreMAP is currently in it’s 4th year of existence and has really re-shaped the “face” of the UW astronomy department.


At the suggestion of Keivan Stassun, the three of us (Kevin, Marcel and I) attended the annual meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) in February 2004, in order to make connections with students and faculty of color.  It was one of the more powerful experiences of my career to date.  After the meeting I co-wrote an article about my NSBP experience in The Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy's (CSMA) semi-annual newsletter, Spectrum (Covey & West 2004).  Kevin, Marcel and I continue to attend (the now joint) NSBP/NSHP meetings and are co-chairing the astronomy/astrophysics sessions this year.


Last year the NSBP awarded Marcel, Kevin and I a certificate in “Recognition of Distinguished Personal Initiative on Diversity in Astronomy.”

University of Washington Alumni at the 2008 National Society of Black and Hispanic Physicists (NSBP/NSHP) Meeting

MIT Physicists at 2009 NSBP/NSHP Meeting