Boosting inclusion and equity in science at TU

Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences recently accepted into national inclusion and equity alliance

By Cody Boteler on August 28, 2020

New Science complex
The Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences was accepted into the American Physical Society's inclusion and equity initiative. 

The Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences in the Fisher College of Science & Mathematics at Towson University was recently accepted into the American Physical Society’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA).

Membership in the alliance signifies that the TU physics department has demonstrated a commitment to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion and has outlined a plan to meet those goals.

“This means a lot,” says Rajeswari Kolagani, one of the TU faculty members who organized applying to the alliance. “The goals of this initiative resonate with one of TU’s missions, to create a diversified campus, which engages and benefits from the totality of human experiences.”

Kolagani says it has long been a goal of her department to increase the diversity represented in the student body and faculty.

"The department has always prided in being generally perceived as the 'PAGS Family,'” she says. “But we realize there is a need to extend the reach of that positive culture, to facilitate a true sense of belonging and identity for all, including under-represented groups in physics."

Professor Jennifer Scott, another faculty member who had a key role in developing the proposal proposal, says this will be an effort championed by faculty, students and staff.

“We’re all pretty excited about the project; we have a Slack group to talk about it,” Scott says. “The first thing we’re getting down to is thinking about shared leadership and what that will look like.”

Students will have a unique perspective on how to boost retention, she says, making the whole plan much more grassroots.

“We want to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in our department. You can recruit students, but you also need to retain those students, and you need to advocate for the later success of those students in order to sustain that,” Scott says.

“ Anyone should feel like they’re able to do what they want. Their gender, their sexuality, the color of their skin, that should not affect how beautiful they feel or how smart they feel. ”

Jasper Sclesi, undergraduate student

The department already has a Diversity Committee, chaired by associate professor Parviz Ghavamian, which focuses on fostering an inclusive environment for students and faculty.

Along with Scott, Kolagani and Ghavamian, the group working on the plan submitted to APS-IDEA includes laboratory manager Mark Edmonston, undergraduate students Jasper Sclesi, Jennifer Scheiderer and Jasmine Jackson, graduate student Hristo Ivanov and alumnus Morgan Githinji.

The plan, submitted to APS-IDEA, includes measures for tracking demographic data of undergraduate physics majors to improve retention, initiating a climate survey to understand how students perceive the department, and engaging alumni to solicit more ideas regarding diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Read more about Fisher College’s diversity action plan.

Sclesi, who is transgender, says he wants physics to be a place where everyone can feel safe.

He recalls a time, earlier in his life, when someone said to him, “You’re really smart, for a girl.”

“I got really offended. That shouldn’t be a qualifier on someone’s intelligence,” he says. “Anyone should feel like they’re able to do what they want. Their gender, their sexuality, the color of their skin, that should not affect how beautiful they feel or how smart they feel.”

That’s why working with other students and the faculty in the physics department excites him, Sclesi says. It’s an opportunity to make the department even more welcoming and to create an environment where nobody has to experience what he did.

Visit the Office of Inclusion & Institutional Equity to learn more about the ways TU is committed to developing a more diverse and inclusive campus.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: Diverse and Inclusive Campus and World-Class Faculty Development Center.