Friday, June 15, 2018

Student Highlight: Ashley Walker


Ashley Walker in the Hörst Lab at Johns Hopkins University


Ashley L. Walker is a native of Chicago, IL. She is a candidate for a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry in her senior year at Chicago State University (CSU) and a recipient of the Chi Sci scholarship. She has worked on galaxy surveys with the Undergraduate ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA) survey team, astrochemical scavenger hunts, and Hydrogen Cyanide in Protoplanetary Disks at the Banneker & Aztlán Institute. She is interested in astrochemistry with a focus on early stages of planet formation. Currently, Ashley is conducting an internship at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. Sarah Hörst as her advisor. Her projects focus on Venus as well as Saturn’s moon, Titan. Recently, she was selected for and gave a talk at Science Speaks Chicago at the Adler Planetarium. Networking is one of Ashley’s strongest skills along with mentoring, activism, and leadership. She hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists, encouraging teenagers, adults, and Black women to continue their education regardless of their background and other obstacles in life. 

1) You were recently selected as a speaker for Science Speaks Chicago. Congratulations! What did you present?



Ashley: Thank you. I was extremely excited to talk to the younger generations about a future in science. My talk focused on how I got started in astronomy, some of my challenges and experiences, and my research at the Banneker & Aztlán Institute at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which focused on modeling ice chemistry in early planet-forming disks. 

2) Please tell us more about yourself. What’s your story?

Ashley: Which story? Hmmm….I’m a very interesting person. Growing up, I knew that Black scientists existed but I just didn’t meet any of them. I consider the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago my home. I live there and grew up around there. My grandparents’ home is still there. We’ve been in the neighborhood for over 50 years. We don’t see people that look like me become chemists, astronomers, or physicists. I want the people in my neighborhood to be exposed to what people of color (POC) scientists really look like and NOT the TV version. I first learned about astronomy at the age of 5, when my uncle bought me a telescope. It was red. As generic as it sounds, it was pretty cool. My aunts took my cousins and me to the Adler planetarium when I was about 9 or 10. I had ALWAYS wanted to go back. If you would’ve told me 12 years ago, that in future I’d be a scientist, I wouldn’t have believed you. 

I’m a non-traditional student. After transferring into CSU from a junior college, I was curious about the astronomy research that was being offered at the time. Dr. Kim Coble, my mentor, encouraged me to pursue astronomy research as a chemistry major and as a career. 

Currently, I’m doing an internship with Dr. Sarah Hörst. The group’s dynamic is so amazing. I fit right in. My main project is about Saturn’s moon, Titan. In the Hörst lab, we recreate planetary atmospheres, whether it’s early Earth, moons, or exoplanets. My job is to understand the effect of the prebiotic chemistry on Titan. 

Ashley with fellow Undergraduate ALFALFA Team students at the Greenbank Telescope


3) What kinds of self-care do you practice? What are the things that bring you joy and make you feel alive?

Ashley: I roller skate, draw, play flag football on a team in Chicago, aerial acrobatics and different types of dance from hip-hop to interpretative dance for my self-care practice. They all bring me joy along with my mom and my cats Pepper, Precious, and Smokey. 

4) What inspired you to pursue a career in astrochemistry?

Ashley: My mentor, Dr. Kim Coble, inspired me to pursue a career in astrochemistry. I was her first research student majoring in chemistry and the last research student she advised at CSU. Dr. Coble is amazing! She believed in me during the darkest time in my life and continues to do so. 

When I had was working with the Undergraduate ALFALFA Team, I saw that they had a special talk with a speaker for astrochemistry and my eyes lit up. I asked a lot of questions. While I was searching for career options in astrochemistry, I read about Emmett Chappelle. He’s the first black astrochemist I had ever heard of and he’s still living today at 92 years old! I want to increase the number of the African Diaspora in astronomy and the subfield of astrochemistry.

Lastly, I’m inspired by my mother. When I was younger, she knew that this is something that I loved doing. My mom is making sure that I can do it. She is currently enrolled in school and will become a lawyer a couple years from now. She’s my shero!

5) What challenges or obstacles have you faced in pursuing your interests in astronomy? How have you overcome them?

Ashley: I’ve faced the loss of loved ones, racism, discouraging/abusive mentorship, and sexism. My father passed away from lung cancer at the beginning of my third semester (Fall 2016). A few months later I discovered that I was mistakenly declared deceased by the Social Security Administration. I was unable to attend classes in the Spring because of this unfortunate event. I set up a GoFundMe page and with the help of well-known scientists, I was able to re-enroll in school. The issue didn’t get resolved until a few months later. 

However, none of this has stopped me from trying to pursue my goal of being an astrochemist. I’ve overcome all of this through hope, standing up for myself, and self-care. I’ve given myself confidence and helped other people who are going through similar issues. Sometimes, life can get tough and we need something that’ll uplift us. I hope to be an inspiration to them. My mom played a HUGE role in my self-care and the reason I’ve gotten this far. She makes sure that I’ll be okay. My friends have also been a great support system for me! One of them is Elizabeth Gutierrez, whom I met a little bit before we attended the Banneker & Aztlán Institute. She has been one of my most supportive and influential peers. She has incredible strength, wisdom, and brilliance. 


Ashley with her "astro siblings" at the Banneker & Aztlán Institute

6) What are some of your pie-in-the-sky career dreams?

Ashley: I want to work for either NASA Goddard Flight Center or NASA Ames in their astrochemistry lab. I want to co-host a podcast with my friends Elizabeth Gutierrez and KeShawn Ivory. Also, we will have our own planetarium for POC which highlights their contributions to astronomy where KeShawn will be the director, Elizabeth will be the Equity & Inclusion coordinator, and I will be entertainment and planetarium events coordinator along with being the dome theater narrator while speaking in AAVE (Ebonics) for all of the movies. 

Eventually, I want to become a commentator or a narrator on a science show because I’m funny and energetic. I also want to be a Christmas lecturer at the Royal Society like my favorite scientist, Michael Faraday. My facial expressions and some..okay all of the things that I say make people laugh. I want people to have fun while learning cool science. Later on down the line, I want to become a professor at Chicago State University and start a formal astronomy program. 

7) Black women are severely marginalized in our field. If astronomy were an ideal community for Black women, what would that look like for you?

Ashley: An ideal community for me would be having more women of the African diaspora in positions of power. We would be appreciated more, our ideas would be heard, and not stolen or used against us. Our schools would have more young girls and women of African descent in physics and astronomy classes. The workspace would be would be comfortable for us, we would have more support groups, and better pay for Black women. There would be more opportunities for Black women to thrive and survive. Self-care would be mandatory for Black women when things are stressful so that they could decompress and release any negative energy before working or attending classes. 

8) If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself about your career in astrochemistry?

Ashley: I would say follow your first instincts and ask more questions. Don’t settle, limit yourself for certain criteria, or even have self-doubt because of someone else that is clueless about your choice of career. If your first mind says do it, be like Nike (Just do it). 

9) Any final words?

Ashley: My support team is awesome. I thank my mom, Dr. Kim Coble, and Dr. Kristy Mardis (my current research advisor) all the time. I kind of feel like I was tagged teamed in order to go down this route. My family, friends, people at Banneker & Aztlán Institute, UAT, and other mentors such as Drs. Lucianne Walkowicz, Nia Imara, Sarah Hörst, and sooo many more people have supported me and beyond what I could ask for. 

I want more Black/African descent girls and women to be confident in the skin that they’re in. Continue pursuing your goals, standing up for what is right, being confident in the work that you do, ALWAYS know that your happiness comes first, and self-care is THE BEST care!


The Hörst Phazer Lab Group 2018-2019

Friday, May 11, 2018

Statement Against the Policing of Black and Indigenous Students

[Content Warning: Racism, Anti-Blackness, Police Intimidation, Violence]

Dear fellow astronomers,

We bring to your attention a string of recent incidents involving Black and Indigenous students being racially profiled on university campuses in the United States. We urge you to reaffirm your commitment to the safety of Black and Indigenous astronomers, and especially students, within your institutions.

On April 30th, the mother of two prospective white students called the police to report two Indigenous students on a campus tour of Colorado State University. She described them as “definitely not being part of this tour;” as individuals who really “stand out;” “their clothing had weird symbolism and wording on it;” “I think they’re Hispanic;” and that her husband said that “another dad...also on this tour, also believes they don’t belong...their behavior is very suspicious.” This racist action was upheld and validated by the police officer who answered the 911 call, saying “the fact that more than one person noticed the strange behavior” after the caller alluded to the possibility that she might be "paranoid", aligning with the idea that white people’s discomfort merits police intervention. Officers were dispatched and the Indigenous students were asked to prove they belonged to the tour; one of them was patted down for weapons. The student later explained that he likes to keep his hands in his pockets because he is shy. We share links to the police report, and a statement from the university containing the original 911 call and body cam footage.

Similarly, on May 7th, a Black woman graduate student at Yale took a nap at the Hall of Graduate Studies common room to rest after writing a paper. Soon after, a white student, whose identity has been disclosed by the media, scolded the student using the phrase “You're not supposed to be sleeping here. I'm going to call the police” and took pictures of her without permission before calling the police. A friend of the Black woman student recorded this incident and the interaction with the police, which can be found here. We share a statement by the Black Graduate Network at Yale. At the time of writing, the university has not issued an official statement on their website.

These two incidents are coupled with many other racist calls to the police primarily against Black individuals at establishments like Starbucks, AirBnB, Grand View Golf Course, Nordstrom, Barneys, Walmart, Waffle House, and even public parks -- many of which have resulted in emotional and physical violence against these individuals. These are only a few examples of many incidents against people of color - especially Black folks - in this country, which often go unreported or without media attention. Make no mistake, these incidents do not happen in a vacuum, but are the continuation of centuries of systemic racism and over-policing of communities of color, and the over-surveillance of Black and Indigenous bodies in predominantly-white spaces. 

As summer arrives, new Black and Indigenous students prepare themselves to move to new settings, either to join graduate or REU programs. The signatories urge you to step up your commitment to their safety. A few recommendations for white colleagues include:
  • Recognize that it is your duty to ensure that Black and Indigenous members of your scientific communities feel safe, protected and included - and take immediate action to protect them.
  • Have conversations in your departments and research groups about the implications of white folks calling the police on people of color, which may result in their incarceration and violent (often lethal) action against them.
  • Have conversations with your white students and colleagues about situations that can endanger Black and Indigenous students, such as the use of alcohol and drugs at parties, jokes surrounding the use of these substances in the context of racist and anti-Black narratives, etc. - because, if police officers are dispatched, Black and Indigenous students will be treated differently from their white peers.
  • Call upon existing campus resources - such as a multicultural center, counseling services, or an office of “diversity” and inclusion - to facilitate these conversations.
  • Invest time and funding to provide workshops on implicit bias, racism and anti-Blackness, by qualified facilitators on campus and beyond.
  • Be aware of the implications of requiring Black and Indigenous students to stay in the office after hours, and of any activities that may result in these students having to stay or move around campus after hours.
  • Find resources for Black and Indigenous students so they can equip themselves with tools to help them stay safe. Be sure you consult with experts versed in anti-racism and anti-Blackness to guarantee that such training avoids causing harm to these students.
  • Make sure your Black and Indigenous students have direct access to people on campus with authority that they trust, and to attorneys paid by the university, who can help them on a very short notice in situations involving police officers.
  • Educate yourself about the root of the problem -- colonialism, the genocide of Indigenous people, the enslavement of Black folks -- and their connection to mass incarceration, police brutality, and over-policing of Black and Brown people in communities of color and in predominantly white spaces today.
  • Work towards earning the trust of your Black and Indigenous students and colleagues through concrete actions, not just words.
  • Hold your institutions accountable when policies in place are insufficient, and when calls for the protection of Black and Indigenous members are dismissed.

We add resources below and welcome input from the community to improve the above recommendations and to supply additional links to resources (below). Thank you.

Signatories,

Profe Jorge Moreno
Dr. Keith Hawkins
Professor Jillian Bellovary
Prof John Johnson
Dra. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
Dr. Lia Corrales
Charee Peters
Prof. Kathryne J. Daniel
Prof. Adam Burgasser
Prof. Aparna Venkatesan
Dr. Jacqueline Faherty
Prof. Kim Coble

The above signatories are members of the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA). This statement reflects our own personal views, and is not an official statement by the CSMA nor the AAS.

Resources:

Fighting Scientists with Science (essays on Medium) (Prof. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein)


Monday, April 30, 2018

Donations for NSBP

Dear community,

   We urge you to donate to help the National Society of Black Physicists pay their debt. Today is the last day to help NSBP meet a significant deadline. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the NSBP debt relief fund. 

To donate, visit this website.

Thank you!

Postdoctoral Opportunity


POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATE IN VENUS OR MARS SCIENCE, WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY

*We thank Dr. Lynnae C. Quick for bringing this advertisement to our attention*

Wesleyan University Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Planetary Sciences Group is seeking a Postdoctoral Research Associate for one of two potential projects to work under the direction of Prof. Martha Gilmore. The funds will be available July 1, 2018 for two years.

Venus Surface Mineralogy - we seek someone with expertise in geomorphology, remote sensing and mineralogy to undertake analysis of radar properties of the Venus surface to constrain the origin and composition of tessera highlands and the lowland plains materials. We will also examine chemical changes in relevant minerals exposed to Venus conditions using a number of analytical techniques.

Mars Geochemistry and Spectroscopy - The project is to create a series of Mars analogue brines and precipitate them under terrestrial and martian conditions in a Mars chamber. VNIR spectra of the precipitates will be collected in situ and compared to data collected by CRISM in
Mars orbit.

The Planetary Sciences Group comprises 6 core faculty, 7 affiliated faculty and postdocs across the sciences and offers both graduate and undergraduate planetary curricula.


Wesleyan University is in Middletown CT, a New England college town midway between New York and Boston.

To apply:


Questions: Prof. Martha Gilmore, mgilmore@wesleyan.edu


Applications will be reviewed as they are received.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Congratulations to Dr. Isler and Dr. Prescod-Weinstein

We at Astronomy in Color wish to extend our congratulations to Dr. Jedidah Isler and Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who have accepted faculty positions at Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Isler is an observational astronomer with expertise on blazars, is a Senior TED Fellow and is the creator of Vanguard in STEM. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein is a theoretical astrophysicist with expertise in cosmology and philosophy of science, and is an activist and a leader in efforts to decolonize physics and astronomy.

We also strongly encourage the community to ensure that these two freshly-minted Assistant Professors receive the support they deserve, and to work hard so we can collectively create the conditions so that other folks following their paths can also thrive.

Left: Dr. Jedidah Isler. Right: Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

TEAM-UP Student Survey

Content created by Arlene Modeste Knowles and her team. Please share broadly.

TEAM-UP Student Survey



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TEAM-UP has developed a survey designed to understand the experiences that affect the persistence of undergraduate African American students in physics and astronomy.
We invite students to take the survey and to complete it in one sitting. It should take no more than 15 minutes.

Who should take the survey?

  • Undergraduate students, particularly African American students, who are majoring in physics, astronomy, and related fields.
  • Undergraduate students, particularly African American students, who previously majored or intended to major in physics, and then switched to another field.
  • Undergraduate students, particularly African American students, who left their institution in the last 6 months, and were majoring or intending to major in physics or astronomy.
For questions about the survey and TEAM-UP, please contact Arlene Modeste Knowles at teamup@aip.org or 301-209-3164

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Statement supporting astronomers from Global South Countries

[Content Warning: Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Blackness, Deportation, War]

Dear fellow astronomers,

In a meeting at the Oval Office with lawmakers on Thursday, January 11th, during a discussion centered on immigration, the POTUS uttered the phrase “Why are we having all these people from [vulgar expletive] countries come here?”, singling out African Union countries, Haiti (all with predominantly Black populations), as well as El Salvador. He also added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway (a predominantly white North-European country). This was followed by the words “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out." 

These racist remarks did not occur in a vacuum. They were made a few days before Martin Luther King Day in the US, and a day before the eighth anniversary of a devastating earthquake that took the lives of 220,000 to 316,000 Haitians and displaced almost a million more. Haiti, a country founded by African slaves in rebellion over their European oppressors, has resisted capitalism in the midst of crushing debt, forced military coups, and debilitating economic policies imposed upon them by both US and European powers. Haitians have survived these obstacles and persevered with incredible vibrancy, tenacity, and spirit. These remarks also took place just three days after this administration announced the termination of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which will result in the ending of legal status for approximately 195,000 Salvadorians, 46,000 Haitians, 2,550 Nicaraguans and 1,040 Sudanese people - with similar measures being prepared against refugees from Honduras, Nepal, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. For many years, refugees from these countries have set roots in the United States, and have raised children for whom this country is the only country they know. Their deportation would be catastrophic for themselves, their families and their communities. Such actions add to the narrative that refugees are not welcome here, even though they fled their homes because of US-sponsored activities in their countries. These remarks are coupled to this administration’s racist and xenophobic agenda: pushes against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and all undocumented people, against people from predominantly Muslim countries, and for the construction of a Wall at the US-Mexico border.  These remarks also come during a week when deportation raids at 7-Eleven franchises are causing panic and fear in communities of color, including communities where many members of our astronomical community and their families live.

The signatories vehemently condemn these remarks, and any racist and xenophobic narratives from this administration. We also ask every astronomer to do everything in their power to protect those colleagues who are directly affected by these narratives, within our borders and abroad. To best support our fellow astronomers from the Global South[1], based both in the United States and abroad, we recommend the following actions:
  • Recruit, retain and promote astronomers from Global South countries. This includes actively seeking to attract applicants from those countries, not dismissing applications and requests for mentoring from astronomers in these countries, and interrogating any unconscious biases we might hold against them.
  • Organize conferences in a way that includes astronomers from Global South countries. These could be done by selecting locations accessible to them, or by providing opportunities to present at venues using teleconference technology. 
  • Support organizations that broaden participation in the Global South and that enhance bridges from citizens of those countries to pursue opportunities in the Global North (please see below for a list).
  • Support students and colleagues that have themselves immigrated or are part of families that have immigrated from the Global South to the Global North; this especially includes people who are under threat of forced (and potentially life-threatening) deportation.
  • Educate yourselves about issues on colonialism, imperialism and neoliberalism - which explains how the world is economically structured to benefit the Global North to the detriment of the Global South. Instead of blaming them for being poor, recognize that those of us in wealthy countries benefit from their exploitation (please see below for list).
  • Call your representatives in congress to denounce the xenophobic and racist narratives and policies by this administration, and to propose and support policies that support people from the Global South that align with the international Refugee Convention and Protocol, to which most Global North countries (including the US) are legal signatories [2].
To all astronomers affected by these narratives, and these policies, we support you and we will continue to fight for you. Thank you.

January 18th, 2018 

Signatories,

Profe Jorge Moreno
Dra. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
Dr. Lia Corrales
Professor Jillian Bellovary
Professor Kim Coble
Professor Aparna Venkatesan
Professor Adam Burgasser
Charee Peters
Professor Alyson Brooks
Professor John Asher Johnson
Professor Kathryne Daniel 
Dr. Keith Hawkins

[1] Global South: In reference to countries facing the effects of centuries of colonialism and imperialism by western powers. Haiti, El Salvador, and African Union countries all fall under this umbrella term. 
-- Mitlin, Diana; Satterthwaite, David (2013). Urban Poverty in the Global South: Scale and Nature. Routledge. p. 13. ISBN 9780415624664.

[2] Refugee status is defined in the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees; see the combined 1951 Convetion and 1967 Protocol on the UNHCR website.

Links and resources (additions are welcome)

To Support Scientists in the Global South:


On Colonialism and Science:


We wish to thank Lamiya Ashraf Mowla, Rohan Naidu and Alicia Aarnio for supplying some of the above links. We request additional links from the community. Thank you.

Disclaimer: The above signatories are private citizens exercising their constitutional right to express their personal views. This is not an official statement by the American Astronomical Society nor the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy and should not be construed as such.