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IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholders’ Workshop – Day 1 December 13, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 13, 2011

The first day was an opportunity for stakeholders to provide quick descriptions of their activities and how they wish to contribute to OAD or make use of OAD. Each person was to have five minutes and two slides. All of the presentations were interesting. What I found informative was the reports from the various divisions within the International Astronomical Union: IAU Commission 46: Education and Building Capacity and IAU Commission 55: Communicating Astronomy with the Public. Both of these have several working groups doing work relevant to OAD. Where the American Astronomical Society is very active regarding the direct needs of research astronomers, these two IAU commissions have been far more active socially beyond the needs of astronomers.

There were several groups focused specifically in Africa: AIMS-Next Einstein, the African Astronomical Society, South African Astronomical Observatory, and there was an artist group doing work in the town closest to the Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

I was given two minutes to represent the National Society of Black Physicists. I shared the following:

  • 1. The National Society of Black Physicists is a global professional society based in the United States.

    2. We are active participants in the African Astronomical Society.

    3. We are interested in international scientific collaborations.

    4. We are interested in international exchanges.

    5. We are exploring forming a regional node in the United States. We aren’t the only ones there is also Steward Observatory and the Vatican Observatory.

    6. We have a long-term investment in the development of astronomy in Africa.

    7. We offer our services to help OAD anyway we can.

  • There are three established task forces:

    1. Astronomy for Universities and Research

    2. Astronomy for Children and Schools

    3. Astronomy for the Public

    Today we will be meeting within these task force to brainstorm, keeping in mind the OAD mission: To help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize its scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society. OAD Director Kevin Govender reminds us that astronomy is not the silver bullet to solve all the problems fo the world. We are also to consider the economic impact of our activities.

    Texas’ Decision to Close Physics Programs Jeopardizes Nation’s Future September 14, 2011

    Posted by admin in : Health Physics (HEA), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Medical Physics (MED), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment
    The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has to varying degrees cut 60% of the undergraduate physics programs in State. This includes both programs at its two largest Historically Black Institutions, Texas Southern University (TSU) and Prairie View A & M University (PVAMU). Although all these institutions have the right to appeal the State’s decision, the dramatic nature of these and other actions strongly suggest that short-term politics, not good science education planning or sound economic policy, is motivating their actions.
    In 2009 Texas state schools produced 162 B.A./B.S. degrees in physics (and another 38 by its private schools).  But Texas produces 50% fewer B.S. physics degrees, per capita, than California.  Closing physics programs would therefore seem to be a step in the wrong direction.
    The State of Texas is leading the country down an abysmal path.  If all the other states were to adopt Texas’ approach, which the State of Florida is already considering, 526 of the roughly 760 physics departments in the US would be shuttered.  All but 2 of the 34 HBCU physics programs would be closed.  A third of underrepresented minorities and women studying physics would have their programs eliminated.  Physics training would be increasingly concentrated in larger elite universities with very adverse effects on the future scientific workforce.
    College physics programs are the incubators of content-driven K-12 physics teachers that sow the seed-corn of future Texas innovators.  Physics graduates are direct contributors to economic prosperity.  Even at the BS level a physics degree leads to high-paying jobs that fire the engines of innovation.
    Texas universities, including the flagship schools, have been unable to produce their fair share of African American B.S. physics graduates; producing at least 75% fewer African American baccalaureate degree recipients than they should (5 vs 20).  This number will become even worse once the physics programs at TSU and PVAMU disappear.
    In October 2000 the THECB adopted the “Closing the Gaps” plan with strong support from the state's educational, business and political communities. The plan is directed at closing educational gaps in Texas as well as between Texas and other states. It has four goals: to close the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence and research.  This plan with respect to physics is being betrayed by the elimination of the two physics programs at the two leading state HBCUs, particularly when one of them, TSU, has started to make significant gains in all four directions.
    The TSU physics program was created in 2004 through the separation of physics from the computer science department.  In 2005 its new chair was hired.  He revamped the program, replacing the old faculty with research driven faculty of national/international standing, representing some of the top universities in the world.
    A new curriculum, with workforce relevant physics tracks (including in health physics), was approved by the THECB in 2008. Since 2007, approximately $1,000,000 dollars was leveraged through the Office of Naval Research and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in support of the current health physics program.  Another $1,000,000 has been raised through federally-funded, and state-supported, research grants (NSF, NASA, DOD, Welch Foundation).  On September 1, 2011, TSU won its first $5,000,000 NSF CREST Center grant.
    TSU Physics has the only health physics program in the greater Houston area.  Health physicists are particularly needed in a city known for its Texas Medical Center complex, one of the world’s largest collection of medical research, diagnostic, and treatment centers.  By 2012, five of TSU’s seven graduates will have pursued the health physics track.  According to salary data from the Health Physics Society, certified B.S. health physicists can expect salaries of $106,000.
    TSU-Physics produced its first two students in May 2010, representing 40% the total African American physics B.S. degree recipients in TX.  State records show that for each of the last six years, the overall production of B.S. degrees in Physics, awarded to Blacks, by State schools, has been no more than five (5).  In May 2010, TSU produced 40% of these, with both graduates eventually going on to graduate studies at the University of Houston (UH). One is enrolled in the Ph.D. program in environmental engineering; the other is taking graduate physics courses.  
    By May 2012, TSU-Physics will have produced four new B.S. graduates, two of them African American.  By May 2013 it will produce six more (five of them African American).  The State of Texas considers any undergraduate program that can produce five graduates per year as programs performing at State expectations. Thus, clearly, TSU will be in compliance within the next two years.
    The principal critique by the THECB for cutting TSU-Physics is that there are too many low enrollment (i.e. less than ten students) upper level classes. As part of its appeal to the THECB, TSU-Physics was prepared to join the Texas Electronic Coalition for Physics, primarily involving small physics programs within the Texas A & M University system. Programs such as that at Tarelton State University (i.e. Texas A & M – Central Texas), the lead institution within the Consortium, pool their students with the other consortium members and teach common upper level courses through videoconferencing resources.
    Georgia’s Atlanta University Center, comprised of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University, have historically contributed to the Georgia Institute of Technology performance as one of country’s top producers of Black engineers, by feeding them well prepared African American students.  This is a model that can be realized in Texas via Texas Electronic Coalition for Physics. 
    However, the THECB also cut these programs. They will only allow this consortium to stay, supposedly, provided only one institution awards the B.S. Physics degree. Clearly the THECB has no appreciation of the importance of mentoring physics majors, and the importance of some sense of ownership in the physics program by students and faculty. Without formal B.S. degrees at each institution, it is difficult for departments to receive grants, etc., thus precipitating a systematic demise of any such physics effort.
    Altogether the THECB decision is short-sighted and abandons tax-payer investments already made.  In the case of TSU-Physics these investments have already paid off, and the program is the verge of meeting the key THECB enrollment metric.  The THECB decision jeopardizes Texas’ overall economic prosperity and African American participation in it specifically.  And if the Texas model spreads to other states, the nation’s security will surely be put at risk.

    NSBP and sister societies respond to National Science Board regarding broader impacts criteria July 20, 2011

    Posted by admin in : History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

    Merit Review Task Force
    National Science Board
    Room: 1225N
    4201 Wilson Boulevard
    Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA

    Dear Merit Review Task Force,

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed revised text for the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts evaluation criteria.

    Members of the National Technical Association and other minority professional organizations are very concerned about the potential negative impact of the proposed changes to the Merit Review Criteria. We are particularly, concerned about the reduced visibility to the importance of STEM diversification.

    Firstly, the proposed changes to the broader impacts text can lead one to infer that diversity is an option and not required since one of the national goals addresses it explicitly. It appears to allow PIs to choose other goals and be evaluated without addressing diversity. Diversity appears to become an option rather than central to all programs and projects and activities, as stated in the existing criteria.

    Secondly, utilizing the broad base national goals as the core principles makes it very difficult to develop a clear framework to benchmark or measure the creativity, educational impacts and potential benefits to society of the programs, projects, reviewed. Each national goal embodies a multiplicity of challenges that are interrelated and dependent on other goals. Several goals address education, while others address workforce which are essential to the development of global competitiveness, yet another goal. Measuring impact at the goal level can become problematic. It is easier to identify underlying issues/causes that should be addressed to advance national goal(s) rather than focus on the goals themselves.

    We recommend that NSF make it clear that its commitment to diversity is unchanged and indicate how diversity will be factored into the evaluation of all programs, projects and activities regardless of which national goals are addressed.

    To advance the frontier of knowledge and achieve global competitiveness, a well trained American born workforce is imperative. Given the projected population demographics, the eligible workforce will shift more to people of color who are underrepresented in STEM. It is more critical than ever that NSF support programs that address workforce development and STEM education improvements to ensure America realizes its STEM related national goals. Whereas, linking programs to national goals is important, it is crucial to first define the national problems that need to be resolved to realize national goals and support research/models that resolve these issues.

    Based on these facts, we urge the Merit Review Task Force to focus on criteria changes that identify categories of problem/ issues it will support to advance national goals and at the same time support its commitment to diversity.


    National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
    National Society of Black Physicists
    National Technical Association

    Inclusiveness in Physics Education January 7, 2010

    Posted by Acoustics (ACOU) Section Chair in : Acoustics (ACOU) , add a comment

    As the national demographics project a shift towards a majority minority US population, a 7% minority representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) population may be viewed as an indicator of a systemic failure. While gender-equity trends are very encouraging, those for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans remain stagnant.

    As a member society of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the challenges facing the acoustics community reflect those in other fields of physics. Throughout physics, as promising intellectual talent is lost to higher-compensating professions, extra emphasis should be placed on effectively nurturing those inspired by positive role models to mitigate this pipeline leakage.

    Therefore, in an effort to advance the discussions from diversity to inclusion in the science of sound and noise, the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) committees on education in acoustics and diversity in acoustics:


    are co-sponsoring a special session on diversity issues in acoustics education to be held at the joint ASA/Noise-Con meeting in Baltimore, Maryland:


    This special session will be held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront (conference room Dover C) from 8:40am on Thursday April 22nd, 2010, with invited speakers intended to expose a wide range of viewpoints followed by a panel discussion to identify efforts that the AIP, and all its member and affiliated societies, should take to foster a culture of inclusiveness among their students and professional members.

    The list of invited speakers include Dr. Catherine O’Riodan, Vice President of the AIP Physics Resources Center, to describe existing AIP programs to work with students and to reach the general public. Dr. Rachel Ivie, Assistant Director at the AIP Statistical Research Center, will reveal the latest statistics and trends on academic degrees and employment in acoustics. These figures will be compared against those in other scientific and engineering fields.

    In a research study with the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP), University of Maryland psychology Professor Sharon Fries-Britt examined the perception of the interactions of underrepresented STEM students with faculty. The findings of this study indicate that their interactions with faculty in the classroom and in advising sessions are critical. When those interactions are positive, students benefit tremendously. However, in many instances, they are negative and the interactions can cause barriers to their engagement in the learning process and in how they feel about pursuing science.  Several examples will be shown of unhelpful comments and attitudes that have been experienced and that inadvertently discourage students from pursuing higher academic degrees. An awareness of sensitivities is essential in increasing their retention rate.

    Dr. Theodore Hodapp, American Physical Society (APS) Director of Education and Diversity will describe a new program that aims to significantly increase the number of underrepresented members receiving doctorate degrees in physics. He will also share ideas for potential partnerships and efforts that we can take within our communities, universities and workplace.

    Prof. David Bradley will describe joint efforts by the Vassar College Physics and Astronomy Department and the Bronx Institute at Lehman College to establish a hands-on, inquiry-based acoustics workshop series for urban, low-income, ethnic minority students from New York City public high schools. Since today’s iPod generation is strongly attracted to music, acoustics represents an attractive gateway into the world of physics. Therefore, the described partnership exemplifies solutions that promise to fill the physics pipeline with increasing number of qualified underrepresented students.

    Dr. Daryl Chubin, Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity, will focus on the legal climate for increasing participation of underrepresented groups in physics education and profession. An understanding of the legal climate is paramount to the development of effective and legally sustainable diversity and inclusion programs.

    Howard Ross is one of the nation’s leading diversity training consultants and a nationally recognized expert on diversity, leadership and organizational change. Howard is past chairman of Leadership Washington and a former director of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. He also was the 2007-2008 Visiting Professor of Diversity for Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. In an effort to find strategies to improve the way organizations are addressing diversity, he conducted extensive research that lead to the need for three major paradigm shifts in diversity efforts:


    “These include a movement from the classic United States-based approach which focuses too heavily on race and gender and an assimilation model of diversity, to one that incorporates a deep understanding of Globalism and the impact of major changes in population demographics around the world, global business, and interactive communication and networking. A shift from the “good person/bad person paradigm” of diversity which has developed and permeated a corrective mindset about diversity; a “find them and fix them” approach which escalates the “us vs. them” way that people approach the issue and makes it more, rather than less difficult to address. We have to move away from the event-based way we have approached diversity, a pattern that has given us many specific activities, but not enough emphasis on systems thinking and culture-based change, to one that is strategic, systemic, and culture-based.

    The wide range of perspectives in this special session promise to feed into a lively panel discussion that harnesses the information shared by these invited speakers into solid inclusion programs for implementation by the ASA and other AIP member and affiliated societies. An open invitation is extended to attend and become part of the conversation and to the solution to this national challenge.