Grad has passion for fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in science education

A woman poses in front of the JPL sign

Izzy Huckabee, who had an internship at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory during her college years, is earning her bachelor's degree in astrophysics this May from ASU.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

For Izzy Huckabee, pursuing a degree in astrophysics from the School of Earth and Space Exploration meant more than just finding answers about our universe and beyond. Fueled by a passion for change, Huckabee leveraged her time at Arizona State University to talk about issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM.  

Despite being “just one undergrad,” Huckabee realized the significant impact she could make in the community around her through an initiative known as Access Assembly. 

“Last summer I represented ASU at the Access Assembly, which brought together many schools to discuss DEI issues in STEM. … After that assembly, I started to be more vocal about the problems underrepresented undergraduates in SESE face. With the Inclusive Community Committee, we got two DEI seed grants funded this past year for projects to help undergrads,” said Huckabee.  

In addition to her work outside the classroom, Hucakbee demonstrated her passion for science by working alongside Rogier Windhorst, Regents Professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, as a teaching assistant.

“Isabela Huckabee has been a truly excellent student and has done excellent work in my cosmology group on Hubble Space Telescope project 'SKYSURF,' where she was involved in measuring the sky brightness and source catalogs from 249,000 HST images taken in the last 28 years,” said Windhorst. “Izzy has been consistently energetic and seems unstoppable in everything she undertakes.” 

Huckabee has also amassed a number of awards and scholarships including the Goldwater Scholarship, DAAD-RISE Scholarship, ASU/NASA Space Grant, Next Generation Service Corps' Public Service Academy Commitment Award, ASU New American University Award and the Fulbright Fellowship. 

Following graduation, Hucakbee will travel to the Philippines to conduct astronomy education research hosted by Ateneo de Manila University. While in the Philippines, she will develop undergraduate course material, organize a lecture series and work with other universities to write grant proposals for mentoring programs. 

“Izzy is not just a talented scientist, she's a superb educator who is passionate about equity and inclusion in the sciences,” said Patrick Young, professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “I only wish we could keep her!” 

In 2024, Huckabee plans to continue her education at Cornell University, where she will be pursuing a PhD  studying exoplanets and substellar objects.  

Huckabee shared her college experience with ASU News.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I originally chose the astrophysics major on a whim — it was challenging, but aliens seemed cool. It wasn't until I met classmates, older students, and professors in the Sundial early start program that I really got to explore these interests. Dr. Patrick Young and Dr. Jenny Patience answered my rapid fire questions about anything and everything. I remember being so giddy during those couple weeks of Sundial. Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to have a conversation with experts?

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: There's power in being annoying and stepping on people's toes! And there's also power in seeing past the tip of the iceberg and recognizing the systems underneath. With SESE’s Inclusive Community Committee, we received two DEI seed grants this past year for projects to help undergrads. Although I'm leaving, I hope those conversations continue to happen. So use your power as an undergrad to be annoying and step on toes, but understand where other people are coming from — that's the only way things can get done in the academic system.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was lucky enough to receive a full tuition scholarship through ASU’s Next Generation Service Corps program. I am grateful every day for the people and resources at ASU that have helped me succeed!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I TAed for Rogier Windhorst when classes were online because of COVID. I remember him telling us, “Failure is not an option,” meaning that if a student comes to us for help, we will do everything in our power to help them succeed, and we will not let them slip through the cracks. That sentiment of taking a chance on people and investing in them is the most important lesson I've learned. And it wasn’t just Rogier that taught me that, it was also Molly Simon, Jenny Patience, Michael Line, Patrick Young and Karen Knierman. All these professors took a chance on me, and I wouldn't be here without that chance.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The number of awards and accolades you have don't really matter. What matters is the work you do, the wisdom you gain and your relationships with the people around you. University is all about the people! Surround yourself with good people who want you to succeed. Meet and understand people who are different from you. Work on your kindness, curiosity, patience and empathy. Develop problem-solving skills, breadth and learn how to be a good mentee, mentor and peer.

Google can teach you physics formulas and ChatGPT can write code for you, but when it comes to becoming a good researcher you need to learn by doing. Your "A" in physics won't matter if no one likes collaborating with you. And every semester, take time to write down your why! It’s a great exercise when you’re spiraling and reevaluating every single life choice you’ve ever made.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: When things went in-person again, I spent a lot of time working on the MU patio. I love working outside because while I’m surrounded by people, no one bothers me (except for the guys trying to get me to sign petitions, but the MU wouldn’t be the same without them).

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: This fall I’ll be going to the Philippines on a Fulbright fellowship to do astronomy education research hosted by Ateneo de Manila University. Despite the recent creation of the Philippine Space Agency, you can count on your fingers the number of astrophysicists in the Philippines. I will be creating undergraduate course material, organizing a talk series and working with other universities in the Philippines to write grant proposals for mentoring programs and workshops. Then, starting in the fall of 2024, I will be pursuing my PhD at Cornell University and continue studying exoplanets and substellar objects.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? 

A: I would put all that money towards K–12 education. ASU is great because of the whole "we define ourselves by who we include rather than exclude," but it also gives us the unique challenge/opportunity of teaching students from widely different educational and personal backgrounds. Some students come in taking Calc 3 because those resources were available to them where they grew up — others come in behind in math for the same reason. Where you grew up shouldn't determine what you can and cannot pursue in college. Putting money towards providing children with quality education and teachers with the resources they need is a no-brainer.

Q: Any influences from past teachers, friends or family?

Q: My friend-tors (friend/mentors? I swear it's a real term) Aisha Iyer, who is graduating with her PhD this year, and Rob Zellem, my boss from JPL. They’ve seen me through the highs, lows and identity crises. My Ate Christina and Tito Jason — they introduced me to Star Trek during quarantine and I’ll never be the same. And my three sisters and parents!

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