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CompuGirls founder on new Center for Gender Equity in STEM

January 8, 2016

ASU associate professor Kimberly Scott discusses her new White House-backed initiative

On Monday, Jan. 11, ASU will launch the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, led by Dr. Kimberly Scott of the School of Social Transformation. The new center seeks to engage communities of scholars, organizations and policy makers to breakdown the systemic barriers that prevent girls and women of color from pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) options. Scott's work to enhance the opportunities for women and girls of color has earned her acclaim from the White House. She spoke to ASU Now about the launch of the new center.

Question: Tell us about this the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology.

Answer: It's a one-of-a-kind center in the nation that is exclusively focused on documenting, building capacity, building programs and advocacy specific to African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American women in their pursuits in science, technology, engineering and math.

There are three departments of the center. There is the knowledge-building arm that is dedicated to synthesizing as well as presenting research that is attainable and accessible to a large audience, so that we can really make sustained and scalable efforts through informed, empirical data. There is the capacity-building arm, which presents programs such as my nationally recognized Compugirls programs, which provides a series of multimedia courses to adolescent girls from digital storytelling to culturally responsive co-robotics. Then there is also the advocacy arm. It's within the advocacy arm that we attempt to culminate the work from the research arm and the capacity-building arm and to translate that information to decision makers such as policy makers, legislators and community grasstop and grassroot leaders.

Q: What need are you fulfilling with this center?

A: Well, there are several needs. First of all, the information that’s specific to the communities that I articulated, specifically African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American girls and women and their experiences in STEM. There hasn’t been a coordinated effort that synthesizes what’s happening to us in these disciplines. There hasn’t been a coordinated effort to try to do something that’s based on research. And so, on the practical level, one of the things the center is most interested in, is how can we take the information, the research, the theories, and translate that into practice and then also measure the impact of those practices in a way that we can make long-term changes.

Q: You speak very passionately about this. Does it resonate for you personally in some way?

A: It does, it does. Having taught in urban districts categorized as high needs and also having had the opportunity to work with education leaders as well as leaders in general. There is this commitment to trying to close the disparity among groups in particular. I’ve seen this in practice, I’ve seen this in the scholarly community, I’ve seen this in writing. So for me, not only as an African American woman but as a social justice activist, this is something that we all must take seriously if we are really interested in addressing inequity.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the National STEM Collaborative, and how this new center will work with it and fit into it.

A: The National STEM Collaborative is one of our signature programs within the advocacy arm of the center. It emerged from a meeting that I co-hosted with the White House Council on Women and Girls in July 2015. It was at that meeting that we had the opportunity of interacting with about 50 university college presidents and they ranged from HBCU, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to tribal colleges, to Hispanic-serving institutions and to land grant. We had the opportunity to ask these leaders what are some of the issues specific to women of color in STEM, how should we address those issues and what are some of the success stories.

At the conclusion of that meeting, having analyzed the information that we heard, I made the announcement based on what I had assessed in that we need a collaborative. We need to further those conversations so that it wasn’t simply a chat and chew, but it led to something that can be actionable and can be impactful. So it was at that White House meeting that I announced the collaborative and since then we’ve had several other meetings as well as the development of programs specific to furthering the initiatives for the collaborative.

Watch the full interview here:

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Bringing citizen science to life

Taking biology experiments out of the labs and into the garage.
Art + science + DIY attitude = citizen science.
January 11, 2016

ASU's Stacey Kuznetsov intersects science, art to transport biology to the people outside the labs

Seeing a lab filled with researchers peering through microscopes, examining petri dish contents or adjusting controls on incubators isn’t a rare sight at Arizona State University. But in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts?

It’s becoming a more common scene with the prominence of SANDS (Social and Digital Systems), Stacey Kuznetsov’s research lab, which houses the tangible intersection of arts and sciences.

Woman standing in front of a cool scene.

Kuznetsov (pictured left), an assistant professor of human computer interaction in the ASU School of Arts, Media and EngineeringThe School of Arts, Media and Engineering is a collaborative initiative between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering., is affiliated with the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering. A part of a growing sector of researchers merging creative pursuits, technology and science, she’s also among the “first wave” of scholars engaging in the emerging academic field of Do-It-Yourself Biology (DIYbio), or “amateur science practice.” Kuznetsov and her team of student researchers in the Herberger Institute examine ways to create low-cost tools for “citizen science.”

“We’re looking at ways to visualize different biology techniques for beginners, or to let people collect and share the data,” Kuznetsov said. “For instance, if they’re working on a project in their maker-space or garage, how can they capture the information that they’re producing and share that with the broader community?”

Another fascinating question Kuznetsov explores is how to take that knowledge and make it applicable, lacking the specialized space of a traditional lab equipped with its traditional tools.

“Recent open-source bio tools enable biology work outside of professional settings for a fraction of the cost, and I see these as parallel to the more widely studied DIY platforms such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, PICAXE, to name a few,” Kuznetsov said, referencing software programs commonly used by artists. She first became involved with such systems when she interned at the Microsoft Research Lab at Cambridge and conducted extensive research on DIYbio initiatives around the world.

Kuznetsov finds that the DIYbio movement aims to make science more accessible, and she recognizes the discipline of biology as a platform for a new frontier, similar to where electronics, software and hardware development stood not too long ago.

“I feel like biology is doing that for us now as more tools are becoming open-source,” she said. “That’s where the future seems to be going. We’re developing basic tools that non-experts can use to do biology outside of professional labs.”

By “we,” Kuznetsov means herself and her student researchers, as well as the broader DIYbio community at large. And by “basic tools,” she’s referring to instruments “like microscopes and petri dishes that are already available at a pretty low cost. There are a lot of fun hacks you can do … for instance, you can actually turn your phone into a microscope for something like $5 by flipping the lens for the camera.”

“All of this is exciting, because the groundwork is already there,” she said. “But what’s missing, in my opinion, are easy ways to get the information we need to get started. There are a lot of online resources, but there aren’t many tools that are embedded, like maker-space, I think that people can use.”

Another thing Kuznetsov finds is that people are more receptive to hands-on work.

“Problem-solving is creative,” she said, “so when you’re trying to make biology happen, you have to get creative. For instance, we don’t have an incubator, so we’re making like an incubator from scratch. It’s discovering methods that fit into our lab and making a process that works in the space that we have.”

In other words, necessity inspires creativity.

“On the interaction science side of it,” she continued, “the tools we end up developing for beginners will necessarily be creative to help people learn how to do this kind of work.”

Kuznetsov also makes it clear that the science side of the equation doesn’t define the relationship between art and biology.

“I think there are also ‘bio-artists’… people who create art with biology,” she said. “For instance, people will make patterns out of cells that have an aesthetic to it, or they’ll sonify the progress of different biological processes. I think there’s a lot of room where people can actually apply art to biology and still learn the biology behind it, but then turn that into a creative project. Not all of the outcomes have to be ‘citizen science’ outcomes. Some of them can be creative practice outcomes.”

Written by Kristi Garboushian, School of Arts, Media + Engineering