On Friday, January 28, the Department of Astrophysical Sciences’ Climate Committee awarded the inaugural set of Equity Prizes! These prizes represent the countless hours of effort the recipients have dedicated to making the Department a home for all. The first set of awardees are Goni Halevi and Erin Flowers, both graduate students, and Sinclaire Jones, an undergraduate student, all graduating in 2022.
As a member of the Astrophysical Science community, Goni Halevi has worked tirelessly on climate issues in Peyton and beyond for the past four years. She was instrumental in initiating climate-related activity in the department, including being a driving force behind the formation of the climate committee and running a climate survey. She then served on the climate committee for 3 years. During that time, she played an important role as graduate student representative, putting in a large amount of time and effort to develop and analyze two department climate surveys, liaising with the graduate student group, and taking many concrete steps to improve the department climate.
Goni also helped start and facilitate the astro-justice journal club. Finally, Goni led our department over the past year and a half to form a new mentorship program in the Summer and Fall of 2020. She met with many people both in- and outside the department to come up with a good structure for this program that would give opportunities for department members at all levels to both provide and receive mentorship. On top of all these department efforts, Goni is a Graduate Fellow in STEM for the Prison Teaching Initiative, where she not only teaches college courses to students in correctional facilities across the state, but also designs new courses and supports other teams of teachers. She also plays an active role in recruitment efforts for the department.
Professor Jo Dunkley notes: “It is always a pleasure to work with Goni on these topics, and we benefited from a wide range of contributions, including her superb plot-making skills for the climate survey reports and her tireless encouragement to us all to make progress.”
Erin Flowers is an inspiration to all of us. She is involved in a number of activities from the department to the national level, all are geared towards countering systemic racism by increasing educational access to historically excluded populations. Here at Princeton, Erin personally mentors the Black Princeton undergraduates in Physics and Astronomy. She is also the Head Diversity Fellow. Diversity fellows work together to support an inclusive graduate school community and enhance the cultural, academic, and professional experience of underrepresented students.
Erin is a teacher and Graduate Fellow for the Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI). She has translated her passion for educational equity into concrete skills for an entire cohort of PTI instructors. She spent a good deal of time thinking critically with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning about how to teach the prison population. These sessions consist of discussions about how to best engage students, establish a healthy learning environment, and boost the students’ confidence as STEM learners. Erin has been very intentional about linking her work within PTI to broader themes of fighting systemic racism. For example, she served as a panelist for a PTI event entitled “Education, Race, and Justice: An Introduction to the Prison Teaching Initiative”, where she spoke about the connections between race and education inequity in this country.
On the national level, she has also served on the American Astronomical Society Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy.
As one of three Black graduate students in Astrophysics at Princeton in the past 50 years, Erin has a unique platform to try and open doors for others like her, and she clearly intends to make the best use she can of that platform. In addition to pursuing her own Ph.D. research at a high level, she has taken on the additional burden of changing our culture and educating all of us about making Princeton, and Astrophysics, an inclusive place to work.
Professor Jenny Greene says: “Erin approaches all of her work with a level of compassion and grace that makes her an incredible collaborator and role model for the department and our field.”
Sinclaire Jones is our undergraduate awardee. Undergraduates have so many communities and so many demands on their time, that Sinclaire's commitment to the Department of Astrophysics really stands out. She has been so active in many conversations about department climate and equity. She has been on the climate committee for two years, and she participates in multiple working groups in that capacity. In addition, she is a member of the Princeton team that is implementing the American Institute of Physics TEAM-UP recommendations.
During these discussions, she provides invaluable perspectives on what we, as a community, can do to better support undergraduate students. From her student peers, Sinclaire represents them and makes sure they all have a voice in the department. She always comes to them for input--especially over the last academic year, when discussions on racial justice and equity came to the forefront. Her positivity was apparent from the very start of her Princeton Astro career--"from day 1" says Neta--as an early concentrator (before declaring Astro her major) and it continues to give a tremendous boost to our efforts.
Congratulations and gratitude are also due to our other nominees: Roohi Dalal, for untiring recruitment efforts, and for paying attention to all the opportunities, trainings, and important activities on campus and beyond; Rodrigo Córdova, for serving on the climate committee and his myriad outreach efforts; Rob Tejada, for mentorship of NAC students, for mentorship of predoc students, and for running AstroJustice. Derek Schaeffer, for leadership of the LGBTQ+ community within APS and for starting the Division of Plasma Physics Pride Committee.
To all of our recipients and nominees, we thank you for your efforts and look forward to seeing all you do.