Last summer, 17 college students with a passion for astrophysics gathered in Watson for the inaugural session of Granville Academy, a weeklong research tutorial camp featuring discussions on inclusivity in STEM.
The program, where students conducted their own research projects, was named in honor of Evelyn Boyd Granville GRD ’49, the second African-American woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics in the United States. Professor of physics and astronomy Meg Urry and former lecturer of astronomy Louise Edwards created the program to increase accessibility for women and underrepresented minorities to STEM-related fields. It was modeled after a similar, successful program — the Banneker Institute — hosted at Harvard.
“If we are going to meet the challenges of the 21st century, many of which depend on science and technology, we need to access the entire pool of available talent — not just the third of the U.S. population that is white men,” Urry said.
Urry said she hoped to teach useful skills related to astronomical research and discuss the obstacles to STEM careers — especially for “outsiders” in the field. She had initially worried that perceived “road bumps ahead” would discourage students, she said. But she found that program participants were excited to push past those obstacles.
Most of the participants were Yale students, but some came from universities as far as the California Polytechnic State University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Urry said the program also intended to showcase Yale’s research offerings to potential graduate students.
The students studied an array of subjects across astrophysics including X-ray spectroscopy, machine learning and galaxy morphology. According to Edwards, she and Urry believe early research training will help students’ science careers in the long-run.
Students who attended the program said they benefited from the training in astronomical research as well as the inclusivity discussions.
“As a white woman in STEM, it’s really important for me to learn more about the hurdles that could affect me personally, but also about the struggles that are faced by other minority groups in physics,” said Abby Mintz ’21, who attended the program.
Mintz said that the most impactful discussions focused on implicit bias in STEM fields, in which researchers and others “subtly and often unintentionally exclude and alienate minorities and women.” She added that beyond explicitly condemning discrimination, professionals in the STEM field must make an active effort to create an atmosphere that is inclusive and encouraging.
According to attendee Trustin Henderson ’21, the workshop reinforced the idea that researchers’ ability to do research is independent of their background. He added that the only prerequisite is “being curious about the universe in which we find ourselves.”
“I believe unequivocally that having a greater number of people who dedicate their efforts to study the universe will result in more knowledge and understanding,” said Henderson. “Why then, are less than one in five astronomers self-identified as female or nonbinary, and over nine out of 10 astronomers identified as white?”
Henderson said that the program also taught him how to be a better classmate and teacher through strategies to combat implicit bias.
Tonima Tasnim Ananna GRD ’19, who assisted in teaching the course, said similar workshops should be held on a more regular basis throughout the academic year, since programs like Granville Academy are beneficial for students of color pursuing careers in STEM.
Urry said she intends to expand the program next year by working with Yale’s Wright Lab, which studies physics and astronomy.
Granville won the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Wilbur Lucius Cross medal, in 2002.
Jever Mariwala | firstname.lastname@example.org