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The School of Physical Sciences Announces 2023 EDI Excellence Awardees

May 9, 2023 | By Michelle Franklin

The School of Physical Sciences has announced the recipients of its 2023 EDI Excellence Awards: Adam Burgasser, Abigail Kopec, Desirae Mellor, Melissa Quinnan, Jeff Rances, Nathan Romero, Taylor Rytlewski, Carlos Vasquez and the Association of Women in Mathematics.

Inclusive excellence is a core value in the school, and supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is integral in all aspects of work. The school seeks to increase access and support for people from underrepresented groups, including women, underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ+, first-generation college students and people who are differently abled.

EDI initiatives are driven by the ongoing efforts of the faculty, students, postdoctoral scholars and staff within the school. The awards were created by the school’s EDI committee, comprised of faculty and staff from across physical sciences, and honor those who have generated intentional, impactful and innovative EDI efforts.

“Congratulations to this year’s awardees. Equity, diversity and inclusion are cornerstone principles for UC San Diego and the School of Physical Sciences. Our goal is for all students, faculty and staff to feel welcomed, valued and supported,” said Dean of the School of Physical Sciences Steven E. Boggs. “I am grateful for the work all of this year’s nominees have done to make the school more diverse and inclusive.” 


EDI-burgasser-adam.pngProfessor of Physics Adam Burgasser is committed to addressing EDI issues in the curriculum of the School of Physical Sciences, leading seminars and new course development on anti-racism in physics and on perceptions and stereotypes of who works in physics. These courses help raise awareness about the lack of diversity in physics and astronomy, give underrepresented students a space to talk about their experiences on campus, and create a sense of community for students interested in allyship. Burgasser, who is also admissions chair for the new Ph.D. program in Astronomy, has helped implement a more equitable admissions process with holistic rubrics and evaluation metrics that value excellence and diversity.


EDI-postdocs.pngPostdoctoral scholars Abigail Kopec (far left) and Melissa Quinnan (far right) serve on the Climate Committee in the Department of Physics, where they led discussions on the lack of postdoctoral engagement in the department and actively sought out solutions. Abby and Melissa have worked to engage their colleagues and build a supportive postdoctoral community. They mentor graduate student researchers, and bridge the social gap between postdocs and other people in the department by hosting regular social events. Going forward, Abby and Melissa would like to create more opportunities for physics faculty and the postdoc community to interact and have open dialogue. 


EDI-mellor-desirae.jpgChemistry graduate student Desirae Mellor has been an integral part of the EXPAND Program, which provides research experiences to underrepresented undergraduate students by pairing them with mentors. She joined the program as a mentor, then transitioned to a program coordinator, and currently develops and leads the mentorship training workshops. Desirae is the current President of SWIGS (Society for Women in Graduate Studies in Chemistry and Biochemistry Department). She has led orientations for incoming graduate students and participated in recruitment events to encourage more diverse and inclusive applicants. As a teaching assistant, Desirae supports student well-being and overall success as individuals, particularly those with barriers, all the while excelling at teaching. 


EDI-rances-jeff.jpgJeff Rances is the graduate admissions and MS program coordinator in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He is a part of numerous committees that promote diversity and inclusion, and has championed EDI-informed graduate student recruitment and retention. As a long-serving member of the Graduate Admissions and Recruiting Committee, has helped implement a holistic review rubric that is designed to ensure a fair and equitable review process. Jeff tries to always communicates with empathy, care and optimism in response to student questions. He is beloved amongst graduate students for his commitment to community, fairness and respect, and creativity in planning and participating in activities that foster cultural competencies and departmental connection.


EDI-Romero-Nate.pngAssistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Nathan Romero incorporates EDI into his research, teaching and service. As co-chair of the departmental EDI & Climate Council, he works with faculty, staff and students to advance initiatives and policies that foster anti-racism, justice and wellness. He has co-hosted departmental EDI seminars and workshops and has served as faculty advisor for several student- and postdoc-led projects, including the The Mosaic (a student-produced Zine). He is an Anti-Racist Pedagogy Learning Community Fellow, through which he developed curricula that incorporates social justice education into responsible conduct of research training for graduate students. He is a co-author on the article “Organic Chemistry: A Retrosynthetic Approach to a Diverse Field.”


EDI-rytlewski-tyler.pngTaylor Rytlewski is a pre-med physics undergraduate student dedicated to helping immigrants apply for U.S. residency by assisting with the required medical exam. As a Spanish-speaker, she is often a first point of contact for these applicants and helps establish a friendly, informative rapport. Balancing her clinical workload with full-time undergraduate studies, Taylor has assisted with over 1,000 immigrant applications. Through this work, Taylor has translated the problem-solving strategies developed in her physics courses and research to find solutions for underserved communities and optimize clinical outcomes. She is also able to bring her experience and perspective working with underserved communities to conversations within the UC San Diego community.


EDI-vasquez-carlos.pngCarlos Vasquez is a chemistry graduate student contributing valuable EDI through his research, teaching and outreach efforts. Over several years, he helped co-develop a three-day outreach program that brings gene-editing technology to local high school students. Over 100 students from three schools have participated in the "Genome Editing Technologies Program," detailed in an article in The CRISPR Journal. In teaching Chemistry 6A in the Summer of 2022, Carlos implemented inclusive pedagogies to serve his students and has a 100% CAPES approval rating. He hopes to continue contributing to EDI efforts in academia and is grateful for the resources provided for by the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship and a NASEM Ford Foundation Fellowship. 


EDI-AWM.pngThe Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) at UC San Diego is a student-driven professional society that encourages women and gender minorities in mathematics by fostering a supportive community with all Department of Mathematics members. AWM’s mentorship program pairs graduate students, postdocs, and faculty to build connections with lunches, coffee meetups, and team-building events. It holds several interactive workshops, such as “How to Find a Job in Academia” and “Imposter Syndrome and Mental Health in Graduate School.” AWM also hosts weekly teas, support group chats, and a “Meet a Mathematician” interview series where attendees can learn about the journey and the challenges professors overcame during their careers.

Nominations for next year’s awards will open in early 2024.