CUNY ASRC Advances Diversity in STEM With $180K PIT-UN Grant to Create a Digital Research Community

By Lida Tunesi

he STEM fields have long been challenged by a lack of diversity that spans the academic and workforce sectors. The dearth of representation means critical experiences and ideas can be excluded from the voices that inform and shape scientific research and technological advances. Over the past several years, the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center, CUNY (CUNY ASRC) has piloted several outreach and communications programs to help address these systemic barriers.

To strengthen the impact of these programs, the CUNY ASRC will bring them together under a new umbrella, called IlluminationSpace Hub. The creation of the Hub is made possible by a $180,000 Challenge Grant from the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), awarded to CUNY ASRC Executive Director Annette “Nina” Gray, Media Relations Manager Shawn Rhea, STEM Outreach and Education Manager Kendra Krueger, and Director of the CUNY ASRC Next Generation Environmental Sensors Lab Ricardo Toledo-Crow

“The Hub will provide a central space for the CUNY STEM community to engage with the public in a way that promotes greater understanding of the research done here and how it can and does benefit New York City communities,” Rhea said, “especially those that are underrepresented in STEM.”

PIT-UN brings together colleges and universities with the goal of training graduates in tech fields to evaluate the social and political implications of technologies and use them for the public good. CUNY will host the network’s annual convention in 2022.

The CUNY ASRC currently operates several science outreach programs, including the IlluminationSpace Youth Classroom, the Community Sensor Lab, and the Graduate Center Science Communication Academy.

The PIT-UN grant will help expand and enrich each of these programs and create an online platform for the Hub, called the IlluminationSpace Digital Community. The Digital Community aims to facilitate public use of open-source technology and research, foster collaboration between CUNY and underrepresented communities, and provide training for science advocacy and data-driven policy change.

“We envision the Digital Community as a gathering spot where local communities and CUNY STEM can interact and partner on driving science for the public good,” Rhea said.

Connecting the CUNY ASRC’s outreach initiatives will strengthen each of them in return.

“By bringing these programs together we’ll really be able to create greater institutional infrastructure to support these programs, grow their capacity, and further leverage other resources across CUNY,” Krueger said. “Through the IlluminationSpace Hub I hope to see more cross-pollination and exchange between local folks, schools, and academic researchers at CUNY.”

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