ASU faculty discuss equity and inclusion in STEM at virtual event

'Picture a Scientist' documentary post-screening discussion touches on systemic solutions, the importance of empathy


January 19, 2021

On Jan. 7, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University hosted a virtual screening and discussion of “Picture a Scientist” — a documentary film that chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for female scientists. 

The film, an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, follows a biologist, chemist and geologist’s experiences in the sciences, overcoming harassment, institutional discrimination and subtle slights to revolutionize the culture of sciences. From left to right, top to bottom: Nancy Grimm, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Nancy Gonzales and Ann McKenna discuss the documentary “Picture a Scientist” after a virtual screening. Download Full Image

The livestreamed discussion was led by Nancy Gonzales, provost pro tempore and outgoing dean of natural sciences, and Raychelle Burks, professor of analytical chemistry at American University in Washington, D.C., and one of the scientists featured in the documentary.

Discussing her thoughts on the film, Burks said she feels it helps illuminate the different types of harassment happening in the science world.

“People tend to be very focused on the gratuitous sexual harrassment and sexual assault — which of course is shocking and violating — but it’s also all of the gendered harassment that is more common,” Burks said. “Asking women to take notes, to fetch your coffee, not inviting them to key meetings, giving them twice as much service work. ... To hear all the stories and see all the data presented in that way makes it very clear that this is a systemic problem.”

As part of ASU’s Innovation Quarter, the event included discussions from three esteemed panels of ASU faculty and leaders who answered questions around the themes of equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Progress and the barriers that remain

The first panel featured a group of distinguished female faculty in the sciences and engineering who discussed their own experiences in the field, the progress being made in STEM and the barriers that remain in ensuring more equitable environments:

  • Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

  • Nancy Grimm, ASU Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Ann McKenna, vice dean of strategic advancement and professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Meenakshi Wadhwa, director and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Wadhwa reflected on the ways in which women and minoritized groups, not only in the film but in many labs around the country, are often pushed out of STEM fields because of bullying, harassment and exclusionary behaviors.

In discussing how she believes this can be addressed, she said there are two main aspects.

“One needs to create a culture, a climate that's inclusive and welcoming. The second is that we need to address structural and systemic issues. We’re actively working to address both of these in my school,” Wadhwa said.

Reiterating a point made by Burks in the film, Wadhwa said she believes it's crucial to create a workplace environment where women and minorities don't feel invisible but they also don't feel hypervisible. She shared that the School of Earth and Space Exploration hosts monthly community conversations where anyone can share information, feedback and commentary in an effort to encourage awareness and an open dialogue.

When asked where she sees positive change happening in STEM, Elkins-Tanton said she feels progress is being made because these issues are being openly discussed.

“The change we’re trying to make is a change in culture, a change in expectation, a change in our subconscious reactions and thus our implicit bias — and it starts with new laws and policies, but that's not enough,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The change becomes real when we all see all people as equally deserving and equally promising — that has to be brought about by talking.”

The role of male allies in creating systemic change 

The second panel, consisting of five men currently in leadership roles at ASU, discussed how men can be institutional allies to women in STEM and their roles in impacting institutional practices and culture at universities:

  • Christopher Boone, dean of the College of Global Futures.

  • Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

  • Vernon Morris, director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

  • Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Neal Woodbury, interim executive vice president and chief science and technology officer of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

From left to right, top to bottom: Patrick Kenney, Nancy Gonzales, Christopher Boone, Kyle Squires, Neal Woodbury and Vernon Morris.

Morris spoke about how as systemic problems, these issues require systemic change.

“I think for men, generally speaking, we’ve got to recognize that sometimes we’re comfortable with systems that are broken. If the system is actually discriminatory, we may have to change elements of the system,” Morris said. “The approach that would make the most sense to me is actually interrogating the system as it is, challenging it and changing it.”

He went on to say he feels leadership must be brave enough to challenge and turn the system on its head, while not just simply modifying or adding things so people can get through the system as it exists.

In discussing some of the men in the film, Boone said it is clear that even friends and allies need to work harder together to continue to learn and do better. When asked what his ideas are to encourage men and other allies to develop greater empathy, he said he believes it starts with giving them the opportunity to explore how they would react when presented with circumstances of workplace discrimination and other related issues.

“There’s lots of reasons why people don’t speak out, fear of retribution, whether it’s violent or verbal. I think people also freeze in the moment, they don’t know what to do because this is outside of what they consider ordinary behavior, at least for themselves,” Boone said. “So I think we need to do a better job of putting people into those scenarios where they can at least have a sense of ‘what could the potential intervention be.’” 

Reflecting on the ways his path and that of his male colleagues may have been made easier than that of women and other minoritized populations, Kenney added that one pervasive force he recognizes is white male privilege.

“You have no idea how powerful it is as you move along,” Kenney said. “White male privilege is there from the get-go, it doesn’t go away and it probably has a multiplier effect across time.”

The importance of mentorship, innovation and awareness

The final panel, consisting of five women who are earlier in their teaching careers in the sciences and engineering, discussed and shared resources they have found supportive in achieving their professional goals as academics: 

  • Laura Ackerman, assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences. 

  • Brooke Coley, assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Esther Florsheim, assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences.

  • Christy Till, associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. 

  • Marisol Perez, associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

From left to right, top to bottom: Christy Till, Raychelle Burks, Laura Ackerman, Brooke Colley, Esther Florsheim and Marisol Perez.

Florsheim shared how eager she is to be able to explore topics nobody has studied before while finding new things and potentially helping people through her work as a member of ASU’s faculty. 

“As a member of the professoriate I think what will be exciting is to connect with people — to collaborate, to mentor and to brainstorm new ideas. I don’t think there’s innovation without a diverse group of people generating new ideas,” Florsheim said.

Perez added that mentorship has been a crucial part of her own personal success in STEM. After becoming connected to several mentors through the National Science Foundation’s advanced scholars program, she said her outlook and career aspirations changed for the better.

“That changed my developmental path in my career,” Perez said. “They fundamentally changed my view and most importantly, they showed me the playbook. There was nobody that was a leader in my field that looked like me. My mentors really helped me step by step in teaching the playbook and I think that was just vital.”

In talking about efforts and initiatives taking place within their labs, schools and departments, Coley shared how she is leading a book club for faculty and staff called the Fulton School of Engineering Equity Book Club, in an effort to combat the myth that constructs of racism and sexism exist in the world but not overtly in academic environments.

“We’re trying to elevate the standards of responsibility. Where is it no longer enough to say, ‘I didn’t know?’ or ‘I didn’t see that?’ How can we prepare people to navigate as professionals in this realm?” Coley said. “The goal is that through educational awareness, we’ll be able to expose people to more evidence.”

Empowering STEM professionals to be agents of change

Gonzales said conversations like the ones had during the virtual panel sessions are crucial to creating positive, systemic change within STEM, academia and at ASU.

“We are grateful to all of our esteemed guests for sharing their thoughts and expertise,” Gonzales said. “I am hopeful that as we continue these important discussions, members of our community who are watching will feel empowered to be agents of change, working together to create inclusive environments for women, women of color and other previously excluded groups in STEM." 

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Education and smart-region changemakers win gold at first-ever ShapingEDU Winter Games


January 19, 2021

What do education and smart-region design have in common? A goal of creating smarter campuses, cities and regions, so that we can ultimately create a smarter world for generations to come.

This was the driving motivation behind ShapingEDU Winter Games, which brought together more than 1,200 changemakers — education leaders, smart-city experts, students, faculty and technologists — from Jan. 5–7, to drive forward the conversations, plans and actionable ways for individuals and communities to shape the future of living and learning. ShapingEDU Winter Games Download Full Image

"It's really all about how we come together as a community to address ongoing challenges and barriers and see past it, to use our heartfelt principles of inclusion and access and equity and design that better world together,” said Samantha Becker, executive director of creative and communications for Arizona State University's University Technology Office.

The spark that lit the torch

While the pandemic has paused in-person events, it has not stopped dreamers, doers and drivers from meeting virtually. The powerhouse team behind ShapingEDU’s popular Learning(Hu)Man, a weeklong, camp-themed event, joined forces with The Connective — a group of 23 city, town and county local government organizations who work collaboratively to develop and deploy technology scalable solutions rooted in connectivity, mobility, equity and sustainability — to further connect education and smart region design. 

Winter Games StatsTogether, they saw this as an opportunity to make the regional Smart Region Summit a global event – and so as the closing event of ASU’s Innovation Quarter, they organized the ShapingEDU Winter Games: a three-day, digitally immersive event where "athletes" (Winter Games attendees) from six continents joined more than 60 activities led by 80 world-class "coaches" (Winter Games presenters) to change the world as we know it.

“Our motto from the very beginning has been that ‘collaboration is our next competitive advantage,’” said Dominic Papa, Arizona Commerce Authority’s vice president for the Smart State Initiative and a leader in The Connective community. “Therefore, we were tremendously excited for the opportunity to collaborate with ASU’s University Technology Office to produce this ever-important global event for the smart cities community. We are both dedicated to making the world a better place and getting the message out about the work that needs to be done.”

Unsurprisingly then, much of the discussion centered around how to make life better, now and in the future.

“When I talk about smart cities and smart regions, I actually never talk about the technology,” said Professor Di Bowman, associate dean of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and co-director for ASU’s Center for Smart Cities and Regions. “It’s about improving their quality of life, however defined. Humanity is central to the work that we’re doing.”

Winter Games Summary Chart

Olympic highlights: A view from the chairlift

Over the course of three days, participants were invited to upskill and challenge themselves with some of the top educators, technologists, city planners and more at the Winter Games. Here are some of the highlights.

Jan. 5: The torch is lit

Get an inside look at the day's events straight from Winter Games trainers Lev Gonick and Becker during Tuesday's "View from the Chairlift."

Olympic keynote: "Learning Futures: Designing the Horizon"

At the opening keynote, educators from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College encouraged attendees to visualize how we might rethink our teaching and learning environments by harnessing the opportunities of our collective uncertainty.

"We are not predicting the future,” said Sean Leahy, director of technology initiatives at ASU. “We are designing in a principled manner to build resilient educational systems to address uncertainty.”

Watch the keynote for more information.

Fireside chat: "State of the Smart Region" update  and gala

At the State of the Smart Region, Papa, Bowman and Jason Whittet of Amazon Web Services celebrated the one-year anniversary of The Connective. They also spoke about how the greater Phoenix area is an “innovation sandbox,” a 21st-century technology proving ground where they can test, prove, scale and export ideas to other regions around the world, through partnerships with Nairobi, Kenya; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Sydney, Australia; and others.

“We’re not keeping our best-kept secrets alone here,” Papa said.

State of the Smart Region Gala Panel

At the State of the Smart Region Gala, ASU Law Dean Doug Sylvester moderated the panel composed of elected officials, chief information officers, university leaders and technology industry champions.

On the smart campus level, John Wolfe from Cox Communications discussed the progress made on the Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory, a joint effort between Cox Business and ASU. Wolfe described the partnership as “a place in which students, faculty, administration and Cox come together to prioritize high-impact problems and develop smart campus solutions.” Cox Business was a Diamond co-convener of the Winter Games.

Jan. 6: Going for the gold

For the scoop on day 2, watch Winter Games Director Laura Geringer and Becker share the highlights during Wednesday's "View from the Chairlift."

Olympic keynote: "The Future of Sports and Entertainment"

During Wednesday’s Olympic keynote, a panel of experts in technology and sports entertainment discussed some of the challenges that sports teams are currently facing while looking forward to the future of sports during and after the pandemic.

The Future of Sports and Entertainment Keynote Panel

Dean Stoyer, chief marketing and communications officer for the Phoenix Suns, shared how the Suns pivoted to keep fans engaged in the basketball season by playing remaining games in the NBA season in the NBA 2K video game on Twitch, which resulted in 3 million unique viewers via Twitch and Twitter.

Moving forward, “health and safety in confidence is key,” Stoyer said, sharing that when fans return to the stadium, they’ll see innovations like UV sanitization on the escalators to in-seat ordering to eliminate queueing, cashless transactions and ticketless environments. 

Check out the full panel discussion.

Fireside chat: "Heart of Inclusion"
Alycia Anderson

Motivational speaker Alycia Anderson.



With the news from the riots at the U.S. Capitol front of mind for many, the ShapingEDU community united for a discussion on diversity and inclusion from motivational speaker Alycia Anderson.

Before Anderson spoke, Becker said: “It's our intent to shape a better world for working and living. It’s really all about how we come together as a community to address ongoing challenges and barriers and see past it, to use our heartfelt principles of inclusion and access and equity and design that better world together.”

In her fireside chat, Anderson spoke about her mission to motivate change through the power of diversity and inclusion, explaining that diversity is who we are, and inclusion is what we do.

Anderson left attendees with a call for action: “I challenge you when leaving today to be open to the collective work that it takes to remove these invisibility screens and to see people for people and me for me. Adaptability, communication and believing it’s possible is core to all of this.” 

Watch her inspiring talk.

Après-ski: Winter Games Musical Artists Challenge

Attendees enjoyed the sweet sounds of music from around the globe during the interactive Musical Artists Challenge, which was designed to provide opportunities for musicians and Winter Games attendees to engage with each other through video, audio performance and live chat. The event was hosted by Zoom, a platinum co-convener of the event.

“Music provides a singular experience for all who listen,” said Warick Pond, ASU executive director of the Strategic Implementation Office and emcee for the evening. “Songwriters and musicians inspire us, take us out of our current space, feelings and thoughts into somewhere new.”

Our seven artists did just that. Enjoy the Musical Artists Challenge.

(Fun fact: Pond was also the singer and co-songwriter for the Winter Games Theme Song.)

Jan. 7: Stick the landing

Watch Winter Games co-convener liason Annie Davis and Becker share who took home gold at the games during Thursday's "View from the Chairlift."

Olympic keynote: "Unlocking the Data to Drive a Smart Region Vision"

Attendees boarded the luge with an esteemed panel of elected officials, policymakers and members of the research community for a ride through the world of making complex decisions and proposing novel solutions to challenges using data.

“Data is critically important in terms of being able to back up your decisions,” said Corey Woods, mayor of the city of Tempe. Woods shared some of his goals for Tempe this year, including an affordable housing initiative, which came about from analyzing data and seeing that change is necessary to keep up with Tempe’s need for attainable and affordable housing.

Mayor Corey Woods TweetHe also spoke about building out a smart and sustainable region, data utilization challenges, and taking advantage of the intersection of sustainable developments goals, international standards and smart regions.

Fireside chat: "Reflections from the Top"

Wednesday’s culminating fireside chat, led by Allison Hall and Kyle Bowen from the University Technology Office’s Learning Experience, helped attendees reflect and share their learning experiences through the art of storytelling. Participants broke out into themed rooms — including the future of work, new realities and more — working together to create products of the future that were inspired by their key takeaways and new knowledge gained over the three days. 

From exploring ways to improve mapping skills learned in the classroom to future career to advocating for accessible immersive experiences and more.

“I’ve been so inspired by all of the stories today, all the experiences throughout the week,” Hall said. “I look forward to seeing all the things those torches light on fire as you leave here.”

Carrying forward the torch and medal ceremony

Samantha Becker

Athletes and coaches gathered one last time to recognize those who sparked new ideas and fanned the flames of change during the Games. 

As attendees clearly knew, their work is far from over. Becker described the global impact of the Winter Games as "vital and timely conversations” for the year ahead. “

I am thankful to the education leaders, faculty, students, technologists and policymakers who took the time to share constructive perspectives for our learning and smart community futures,” Becker said. “As a result, I think we're going to see more transformative work being done at the intersection of our campuses and cities. Everyone can make a difference individually, but new relationships formed means we'll surely go farther together."

Papa echoed Becker’s sentiments: “The Winter Games provided attendees with an opportunity to learn more about the smart region work we are leading in the Greater Phoenix Region and beyond. After participating in Winter Games, I hope that the athletes are empowered by what they learned, and, as citizens, build the partnerships and collaborations necessary to take action and make the positive changes in their communities and the world.”

As part of carrying the torch forward to make a difference in their local community, the ShapingEDU Winter Games donated $5,000 to Human Services Campus and St. Vincent DePaul by serving lunch to more than 500 Phoenicians currently experiencing homelessness on Friday, Jan. 8.

Souvenirs from the slopes

Athlete with Medal

Attendees are encouraged to stay connected and continue the conversion long after the Olympic flame goes out:

The following co-conveners helped made Winter Games possible:

Winter Games Co-Conveners

Stephanie King

Content Strategist, University Technology Office