ASU undergraduate’s science communication pilot program awarded inaugural JEDI grant

ASU undergraduate astrophysics student Bryanna Gutierrez-Coatney, of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has been awarded the school’s inaugural Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Seed Grant from the school’s JEDI Task Force. Gutierrez-Coatney’s award-winning proposal is an education initiative designed to build awareness of physics and earth and space topics among students in Arizona’s Title 1 schools.

“The purpose of the School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Seed grants is to empower the members of our community and to foster grassroots efforts to create a more inclusive environment for all,” said school Director Meenakshi Wadhwa.

The project, officially titled “Bridging the Gap Initiative: Connecting ASU Students with Title 1 Schools Via Virtual Visits,” will explore the benefits of short educational talks on earth and space science and physics topics given to Title 1 high school classrooms by ASU undergraduate student ambassadors. In so doing, the project will support undergraduate teaching opportunities and provide outreach to 150 students in Maricopa County Title 1 schools.

For this project, Gutierrez-Coatney is co-advised by ASU Department of Physics associate instructional professional Anna Zaniewski, and School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty Patrick Young and Steven Semken.

While in high school, Gutierrez-Coatney initially struggled with math and science courses. She often felt disengaged and not smart enough to understand the concepts. Then she discovered scientific podcasts and YouTube videos, which piqued her curiosity and presented science in a way that matched her learning style. It was through this experience that Gutierrez-Coatney learned that she, like so many students, could learn to love science if it was taught in new and innovative ways.

“My relationship with studying science inspired me to write this proposal in hopes to reach low-income students who often struggle with the traditional approach to science learning,” said Gutierrez-Coatney. “I hope that with this award we can test out the effectiveness of science communication through Zoom and remote educational tools and reach students who have different learning styles.”

Gutierrez-Coatney would also like to see this grant provide more paid STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities for students.

“Many of my friends who are undergraduates in the Physics Department and the School of Earth and Space Exploration work minimum-wage jobs at coffee shops, restaurants and retail stores,” said Gutierrez-Coatney, who has also held minimum-wage jobs like these. “Going to school full time and working a minimum-wage job that was not physics-related made me question whether I would actually make it in the field of physics.”

Her solution is to create a paid opportunity for undergraduates to become student ambassadors for their field of science. She believes positions like these will help her, as well as her peers, stay engaged and continue to learn in these areas.

“With this grant, we hope to strengthen more undergraduate students’ science identities and to expose more high school students to topics that could pique their interest in STEM fields,” she said.

For Zaniewski, working with Gutierrez-Coatney has been a joy, and she’s delighted to help students share their stories.

“Bryanna has shown incredible vision, leadership and ambition in putting together this program, and it is a great honor to mentor her,” said Zaniewski. “If this pilot program is successful, we hope to both share and expand this science outreach model.”

About the School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Task Force and Seed Grants 

The School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Task Force empowers a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive environment by facilitating and promoting individual action, dialogue, education, long-term planning and systemic change. It was formed in 2020 and is chaired by the school’s associate director for an inclusive community, Associate Professor Christy Till, and composed of members from all parts of the school’s community.

“We are excited to award this first seed grant to Bryanna and her team as part of our work to incentivize justice-equity-diversity-inclusion (JEDI) work by everyone in our community,” said Till. “This pilot project not only supports earth and space science and physics curricula in regional high schools, it also provides paid teacher training and opportunities for our undergraduate students, making it a win-win situation.”

The school’s JEDI Seed Grant was established in 2020 to support several small pilot projects that focus on improving justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Earth and Space Exploration community. Applications are due in both November and March, and ASU students, staff and faculty are eligible to apply.

To learn more about applying for a School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Seed Grant, visit the JEDI Task Force webpage.

This article was written by Araceli Vizcarra of the Department of Physics and Karin Valentine of the School of Earth and Space Exploration.