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The Graduate-to-Undergraduate (G2U) Mentoring program at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Physics & Astronomy (P&A) has recently been awarded a $6,998 grant for unit enhancement by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative. This success marks a significant step forward for G2U, a program established in 2020 with the mission of providing structured, holistic mentorship to underrepresented minority (URM) undergraduate students in the department.

Mission and Vision

Founded by P&A graduate student Zack Hall with the invaluable support of Dr. Sheila Kannappan and Dr. Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf, G2U aims to create a robust support system for URM students in the department, where they constitute less than 10% of the undergraduate population. G2U is designed around findings and recommendations from an investigation of the persistent underrepresentation of African Americans in U.S. P&A departments, detailed in the American Institute of Physics TEAM-UP report. Accordingly, the program utilizes group-based mentoring and specialized event planning to foster a sense of community. intended to work towards increasing retention and inclusion for URM students in P&A. In March 2022 Science magazine published “The Missing Physicist” package, detailing the woeful lack of African American representation in physics, and G2U was featured among UNC P&A programs as a promising new approach to mitigate this. To date, G2U has over 30 mentees and mentors who have participated in this program.

DEI Grant Success

The success of the graduate student-led application for the DEI grant is a testament to the dedication and impact of the G2U program. The award, endorsed by Dr. Frank Tsui, chair of the department of P&A, recognizes the importance and impact of G2U. Out of nearly 50 submitted proposals, G2U’s stood out to the reviewers, comprised of the Climate Subcommittee of the Dean’s Diversity Advisory Committee. This reflects the department’s support for the College of Arts and Science’s Strategic Plan for DEI, Action Steps for Equity.

Grant Details

The grant will fund the G2U mentoring program from April 15, 2023, to June 30, 2024. This financial support has enabled the program to continue and expand its efforts in providing mentorship training for graduate student mentors and organizing monthly professional development and community-building events for undergraduate mentees. These include semester kick-off events, holiday celebrations, end-of-the-year festivities, and conference funding opportunities.

Context and Acknowledgement

G2U expresses heartfelt appreciation to the Department of Physics & Astronomy for its past funding and ongoing support. Special recognition goes to the faculty who support the development and execution of G2U, which includes Dr. Kannappan, Dr. Weinberg-Wolf, and Dr. Akaa Ayangeakaa, as well as Dr. Julieta Gruszko, who contributed funding through the DEI Scholars Program.  The department’s leadership played a pivotal role in providing funds during the program’s inaugural year, highlighting the commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive academic environment. The department’s diversity committee has also been supportive of G2U’s mission and success. Finally, G2U emphasizes the importance of its graduate student members, both local and virtual, who actively participate as program coordinators and mentors.

Moving Forward

As the G2U Mentoring program moves forward with this grant, it is well aligned with the College of Arts and Sciences’ broader initiatives outlined in the Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The Action Steps for Equity outlines four DEI priorities, including enhancing climate, understanding pay equity, implementing measures for recruitment and retention, and addressing areas of repair.

For more information about the DEI grant, the College of Arts and Sciences’ initiatives, and the AIP TEAM-UP project please refer to the relevant web pages:

College of Arts and Sciences Initiatives

College of Arts and Sciences Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

AIP National Task Force to Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate P&A

This achievement marks a significant milestone for G2U, reflecting its commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for underrepresented minority students pursuing their passion for physics and astronomy at UNC. The program looks forward to the positive impact it will continue to make with the support of the DEI grant.

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