School of Earth and Space Exploration awarded 4 JEDI seed grants for 2021

January 14, 2021

Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration was recently awarded four Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) seed grants from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The grants are from the natural sciences division of The College and represent initiatives of The College’s JEDI framework, which seeks to support calls to action and appeals for social change and justice following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Seed grants from The College will support programs that prioritize justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Credit: ASU/SESE Download Full Image

Specifically, the seed grant program was created to support novel and impactful contributions to promote equity and inclusion in The College’s natural sciences division, which includes the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School of Life Sciences, the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences, the Department of Physics and the Department of Psychology.

“Dean and Provost Pro Tempore Nancy Gonzales initiated a seed grant program in the natural sciences to support JEDI-related activities in the sciences,” said Dean Patrick Kenney, of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The efforts in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and in many other units, are working diligently to prioritize justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. We strive to meet this critical moment in our nation’s history to find ways to improve people’s lives with new and innovative solutions that will ultimately enhance greater scientific discovery and impact.”

Proposals were accepted from students, staff, faculty and administrators with priorities given to projects developed in partnership with the groups they are intended to impact, that integrate evidence-based principles and include a plan for continued refinement and sustainability beyond the initial seed-funding period.

The four awarded proposals featured below are interdisciplinary and involve members of the School of Earth and Space Exploration in addition to representatives from other schools and departments within The College:

The INCLUDES Training Program

Associate Professor Christy Till of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, with Professor Sharon Hall of the School of Life Sciences and Clinical Assistant Professor Ara Austin of the School of Molecular Sciences were awarded $9,550 for their proposal “Natural Sciences INCLUsion DEpartmental (INCLUDES) Training Program.” They plan to use the funding to set and run yearly workplace climate and bystander intervention trainings for their academic units.

“The INCLUDES Training Program utilizes bystander intervention and inclusive teaching and mentoring approaches to reduce the prevalence of harassment and other types of hostile behaviors,” Till said. “We will build an initial cohort of nine trainers to lead regular workplace climate and inclusion training for faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students in our units, as well as annual ‘train the trainers’ workshops to renew the program each year.”

The initial cohort of trainers for the INCLUDES Training Program will be trained by the ADVANCEGeo program, which currently hosts inclusion workshops and trains trainers for the geoscience, biology, ecology, chemistry and engineering research environments.   

Graduate student experiences

Graduate student Aliya Hoff with Professor Monica Gaughan of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Associate Professor Amanda Clarke of the School of Earth and Space Exploration were awarded $500 for their proposal “Graduate student experiences at the School of Earth and Space Exploration.”

This project aims to characterize current and former graduate students’ perceptions of departmental culture, their sense of belonging and interpersonal interactions at the school using qualitative data and semi-structured interviews.

“We will use those findings to evaluate the efficacy of policies and initiatives currently in place to support graduate students and identify opportunities to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the school,” Hoff said. “We hope that our study design can serve as a model for other interdisciplinary units in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.”

Science in a Box Educator Kits

School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate student Linnea McCann and Associate Professor Patrick Young received $4,500 for their proposal to create educational materials for Title 1 schools. Their Science in a Box Educator Kits are designed to bring more science activities into the classroom through free self-contained four-week science curricula for teachers and parents.

“The next school year will provide new challenges for educators and students due to the recent coronavirus-related school closures,” Hoff said. “It is more important than ever to create opportunities for students in difficult situations to remain engaged with learning in creative and supportive ways. We hope that our kits will provide improved classroom experiences in the next year to offset some of these negative impacts.”

The curricula will include: School of Earth and Space Exploration outreach tours (which can be offered virtually), educator kits with hands-on experiments and materials for classroom science activities, graduate student volunteers to aid teachers in demonstrating the activities and instructional videos of graduate students performing experiments.

Sexual harassment prevention and bystander workshop

Graduate students Edward Buie II, Justin Hom and Jasmine Garani received $3,300 for their proposal to conduct a series of sexual harassment prevention and bystander workshops for schools and departments in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

The project goals are to educate the graduate student community on sexual harassment and micro-aggressions and to ultimately erase these behaviors within the STEM community by giving graduate students the tools to be active bystanders who can safely intervene whenever such behaviors occur.

“Workshops like this are needed to increase the dialogue surrounding these persistent issues within academia which hinder inclusivity and diversity in the community,” Buie said. “This peer-led workshop program aims to create a more positive and inclusive environment for all graduate students.”

School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Seed Grant

The School of Earth and Space Exploration has also set up its own JEDI seed grant program. It recently announced its inaugural winner, undergraduate student Bryanna Gutierrez-Coatney. Her 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 school’s seed grant is one of several initiatives from the School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Task Force, which empowers a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive environment by facilitating and promoting individual action, dialog, education, long-term planning and systemic change. It was formed in 2020, is chaired by Associate Professor Christy Till, the school’s associate director for an inclusive community, and is composed of members from all parts of the school’s community.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Renowned expert and professor awarded distinguished chair position

Bert Hölldobler honored for achievement in social insect research

January 14, 2021

Bert Hölldobler (Hoelldobler), University Professor of Life Sciences, Regents and Foundation Professor with Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences, has been appointed as the inaugural Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research. 

Hölldobler is known as one of the world’s experts in insect social behavior and ecology. A behavioral biologist, he has spent his career exploring how insect societies are organized, diving deep into the underlying mechanisms of communication. His innovative and multifaceted research has led to many new discoveries about the dynamics of social structures, communication behavior and the evolution of animals.   In addition to his many other accomplishments, Bert Hölldobler is also one of the founders of the ASU Social Insect Research Group, now an internationally acclaimed group studying the evolution and organization of insect societies. Download Full Image

“Bert Hölldobler’s extensive, award-winning work on behavioral biology among insects is a shining example of the innovation being done within The College,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. “We are thrilled to recognize him as the inaugural Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research for his decades of outstanding research.” 

This distinguished appointment is made possible through the generosity of ASU alumnus Robert A. Johnson, who received his PhD from ASU in zoology in 1989, where he worked with adviser Steve Rissing on a comparative study of bumblebees and ants. This launched a lifelong passion for ants, and he has traveled around the globe researching numerous species of ants, with a primary focus on desert seed-harvester ants.  

“Ants are cool!” Johnson said. “They are the world’s most successful eusocial organisms, as illustrated by their occurring virtually everywhere, having a mass similar to that of all humans, and displaying an amazing array of behaviors and life histories.” 

“Life has been good to me, and I am lucky and happy to be able to give back to ASU to support high-quality research via funding an endowed faculty position – the Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research within the School of Life Sciences – with research focusing on the evolutionary ecology of ants.” 

“Bob Johnson has given a great gift to ASU, (the school) and to social insect research,” said Robert Page, Regents Professor and provost emeritus for the School of Life Sciences. “It is only fitting that Bert is the inaugural recipient of the endowed chair because of the parallel interests of Bob and Bert in ant biology and the great mutual respect they have for each other.”

Hölldobler taught at Harvard, the University of Würzburg (Germany), and Cornell (where he was the Andrew D. White Professor at Large), before joining the ASU School of Life Sciences in 2004. A widely published author, he has contributed to more than 325 scientific publications and co-authored several books, including “The Ants” and “The Superorganism” with E.O. Wilson, which explores the diversity and success of social organizations in ants, and the wider implications these observations hold for the theory of social evolution. 

Hölldobler and Wilson were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for “The Ants.” 

“I am honored to have worked with Bert Hölldobler for many years,” said Kenro Kusumi, director of ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “His groundbreaking work in the School of Life Sciences has contributed enormously to the field of social insect research, and we are pleased to have this appointment added to his legacy.” 

In addition to his many other accomplishments, Hölldobler is also one of the founders of the ASU Social Insect Research Group, now an internationally acclaimed group studying the evolution and organization of insect societies. 

“It was one of the highlights in my professional career when I received the offer from ASU to build together with Rob Page a first-class, internationally respected research group consisting of several of the best young scholars in this field of social insect research worldwide,” Hölldobler said.  

ASU has grown immensely in both quality of teaching and research since 1983, when I started my PhD,” Johnson said. “With the most important moment for me being the hiring of Bert Hölldobler and his junior faculty, which formally started the Social Insect Research Group. This group has been a phenomenal success for attacking and understanding numerous aspects of the biology of ants and honeybees.” 

Johnson’s generous support for the creation of this distinguished chair position will enable many future innovations and discoveries in the fields of social insect research, animal behavior and evolution. 

“We all hope that SIRGSocial Insect Research Group will continue to flourish at ASU in the future and the creation of an endowed chair due to the generosity of Robert (Bob) Johnson — himself an outstanding systematist and ecologist who studies ants — will be an immense contribution to the 'stabilization' of SIRG,” Hölldobler said. “It will also reflect the significance of social insect research to the wider academic community. I feel very honored to be chosen to be the first holder of the Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research.”

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences