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Highlighting Hidden Figures: Atmospheric Scientists Create a New Paradigm for Diversity in STEM

UGA Atmospheric Sciences professors Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dr. John Knox and students Chandler Countryman, Theresa Dixon, Katrina Ducre, P. J. Gudz, Shay Magahey, Killian McSweeney, Kelly Neighbour, Cam My Nguyen, R. Alex Pry, Jantilyn Sanders, Jada M. Smith, Allison Steele, Ben Thigpen, and Savanna Warren have published a new paper in the American Institute of Physics’ biannual History Newsletter. Their collaborative effort details the creation of the department’s Hidden Figures in Atmospheric Sciences course. The authors of the paper describe how the course was created as a response to the systematic lack of diversity across STEM fields. They aim to set a new precedent for collegiate curriculum that includes the perspectives of those who have been traditionally disenfranchised through a lack of representation in the course material. According to the authors, “the literature on those who leave STEM fields is replete with data and stories of people who simply do not see themselves belonging in the field.” Therefore, one goal of the Hidden Figures course is to reimagine the core curriculum so that it can resonate with students of varying backgrounds.

The course aims to subvert the longstanding scientific tradition of removing personal details in favor of “timeless scientific truth.” Instead, the goal of this course is to “learn about this truth in the context of other truths, such as the experiences of and hurdles overcome by the people who made these discoveries.” To service this goal, the course creators have invited Atmospheric Sciences pioneers and luminaries of the field to speak about their contributions such as Brenda Chester Johnson who "spoke to the class about her eye-opening experiences as a woman of color in our field in the 1980s."

Another crucial aspect of reimagining traditional STEM course curriculum for the Hidden Figures class has been to encourage an inclusive and collaborative process for the creation of all course content. “It was made clear that both student and faculty were creating the course together; in that vein, all presentations and publications are coauthored by all class members.” Though this course covers traditional topics in the Atmospheric Sciences (e.g. “hurricanes, tornadoes, weather forecasting methods, etc.”) it does so by exploring the pioneering work of individuals whose experiences are often overlooked. The creators of this course intentionally designed its framework so that it could be replicated across various STEM disciplines and encourages readers to “steal this idea and shape it to fit their own circumstances.”

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Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, Undergraduate Coordinator for ATSC Program

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