Inaugural fellows reflect on experiences

April 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. ­­– The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Graduate Fellows for Science Advocacy and Diversity (EMS-GFSAD) program is wrapping up its inaugural year and has already had an impact in promoting a diverse and inclusive scientific community.

The EMS-GFSAD is an initiative designed to formally support and expand the work of We Are For Science, a coalition formed by Penn State students in 2016 to improve science policy, communication, and diversity.

After an application process in spring 2019, two graduate students, Arnold Eatmon and Rachel Gutierrez, were selected as the inaugural fellows. The fellows serve as the point people for the growing program and are mentored by the senior associate dean for graduate education and research and the associate dean for education equity in EMS. The fellows for the 2020-21 school year will be selected this month.

“WE ARE for Science mainly brings together people who care about science and shows people who might not have much exposure to science that what we are doing is valuable and worthwhile,” said Rachel Gutierrez, a graduate student in meteorology and atmospheric science.

As inaugural fellows, Gutierrez and Eatmon strove to increase membership and the group’s presence on campus. The pair and their colleagues organized numerous events throughout the year to get the community involved and advance the WAFS mission.

In July, they set up an “Ask a Scientist” booth at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, where people could walk up and ask a scientist anything. A stream table and 3-D printed models of unusually large hail formations provided interactive activities to get the public engaged and curious about the world of science.

“I feel like scientists are confined in their own little bubbles and don’t get out to talk to people,” Gutierrez said. “It was good to have the event and make a community that’s welcoming to everyone.”

Interactions with the public also push scientists to drop the jargon and explain their research in a way that connects with people outside their own disciplines, Gutierrez said.  

“Having those conversations helps scientists understand what other people are receptive to,” she said. “It prepares us to better form our elevator pitch to people who can understand and accept it.”

The group held a number of events during the 2019-20 academic year, including a women in science mixer last semester. The University-wide event featured a panel of three women scientists in various stages in their careers to discuss all aspects of working in the world of science.

“As someone who is at the intersection of multiple underrepresented groups in the sciences, I understand how in order to broaden the participation, we all -- from students to faculty to staff -- need to create spaces where people from diverse backgrounds can see themselves in science,” said Eatmon, a graduate student in geosciences.

Eatmon is particularly proud of interacting with high school students visiting through the Mathematics Science and Engineering Academy, an early intervention pre-college program that targets minority and female students administered by Fort Valley State University, an HBCU in Georgia.

“I attended the program about 10 years ago and took the same trip to Penn State,” Eatmon said. “It really led to me choosing to attend here and study geosciences. Overall, it was a fantastic, full-circle moment.”

Moving into the 2020-21 academic year, the EMS GFSAD program will build on the foundational work Eatmon and Gutierrez have established this year.

“Rachel and Arnold both have brought enthusiasm and commitment to this new program,” said John Hellmann, senior associate dean for graduate education and research. “They have kept the momentum of WAFS going and have established valuable contacts throughout the college, the University and the community.”

“Rachel and Arnold have served actively on the EMS Diversity Council and the ALLWE Implementation Steering Committee,” said Victoria Sanchez, associate dean for educational equity. “Their work has already improved our EMS living, learning, and working environment. Next year’s fellows will continue that work and be heavily involved in EMS priority initiatives aligning with the WAFS mission.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 28, 2020