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Syracuse, Cal State Fullerton Awarded Grant to Enhance Diversity in Astrophysics

Professors Duncan Brown, Stefan Ballmer use NSF grant to help recruit, train students from underrepresented groups

Aug 19, 2016 | Article by: Rob Enslin

Photo of Duncan Brown

Duncan Brown

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences are sharing a grant award with their colleagues at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) to recruit and expand the number of underrepresented students in gravitational-wave astronomy.

Syracuse University professors Duncan Brown and Stefan Ballmer are part of a five-year, $937,000 project called “Catching a New Wave: The CSUF-Syracuse Partnership for Inclusion of Underrepresented Groups in Gravitational-Wave Astronomy.” Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the project aims to increase the representation of Hispanic and Latino/a students, populations traditionally underrepresented in the study and teaching of astronomy and physics.

Starting this fall, “Catching a New Wave” will fund multiple three-year fellowships, enabling qualified CSUF students to transfer into Syracuse’s Ph.D. program in physics.

“We are thrilled to partner with CSUF in this initiative,” says Brown, the Charles Brightman Professor of Physics. “With NSF’s support, we can provide students with a clear path to a Ph.D.—one in which they can work closely together and be mentored by professors at both institutions. Broadening participation in research brings a diversity of ideas and approaches that produces better science.”

Photo of Stefan Ballmer

Stefan Ballmer

Ballmer calls the project the “logical next step” in a partnership that, for the past six years, has been building a pathway to advanced studies in physics. Currently, four former CSUF students are enrolled in Syracuse’s doctoral program in physics.

“We want to strengthen the partnership, while recruiting and training the next generation of leaders in gravitational-wave science,” he says.

Ballmer and Brown will work closely with their counterparts in CSUF’s Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center—namely Assistant Professor Jocelyn Read, the partnership's principal investigator; Assistant Professor Geoffrey Lovelace; and Associate Professor Joshua Smith

In addition to supporting more than a half-dozen graduate and undergraduate students each year at CSUF, “Catching a New Wave” will fund summer lectures by Syracuse professors.

“The project will foster academic mentoring between both institutions,” Brown adds.

Gravitational-wave astronomy is a relatively new field that explores what scientists call “ripples in the fabric of space and time,” caused by the collision of billion-year-old black holes.

Currently, the field—and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industry, in general—is dominated by white men. NSF data shows they occupy 51 percent of all STEM positions, while accounting for only 31 percent of the U.S. population. Brown says the lack of diversity in STEM has been a problem for decades.

“When researchers are underrepresented or underserved, the industry faces race and gender-wage gaps, not to mention a shortage of talented minds and perspectives,” he says. “Syracuse and CSUF are committed to making the academic STEM field as fully and widely inclusive as possible. Using a careful mentoring scheme, we will provide education and professional development to help students succeed long after their doctoral research is complete.”


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Rob Enslin