UCF Awarded American Physical Society Innovation Fund Grant

Giving Black women a stronger voice in the field of physics is the focus of a new American Physical Society (APS) award to the University of Central Florida.

The two-year $198,100 APS grant funds a project titled “Journey to a PhD through the Lens of Black Women in Physics.” Its intention is identifying then removing the structures that exclude Black women from pursuing graduate plans. Simultaneously, it will build structures that support their well-being and success. Structures include program and course policies, department culture and research group norms.

Jacquelyn Chini

While many physics departments have noble goals for inclusion, those plans often fall short because they lack the perspectives and needs of Black women, explained Principal Investigator Associate Professor Jacquelyn Chini, Ph.D.

The project pursues a more genuine perspective than the common narrative that Black women can succeed through sheer grit and resilience, she said. The UCF Department of Physics has long supported diversity and inclusion, having encouraged minority representation as an APS Bridge Site since 2015. But there is no record of a Black woman completing the Ph.D. in physics in UCF.

“This project provides the opportunity to specifically explore the experiences of Black women in physics graduate programs so we can improve equity and inclusion in physics graduate programs,” she said.

Working with Chini are Camille A. Coffie, a physics graduate student who joined through the Bridge Program, and L. Trenton S. Marsh, Ph.D. an assistant professor of Urban Education in the Department of Learning Sciences and Educational Research.

Coffie said the background and experiences of Black women provide a unique perspective that can enhance research and offer creative and innovative solutions previously unconsidered. 

“So why not also let UCF lead the way in providing effective strategies and resources to assist the physics community in learning how to best support and retain Black women in physics?” she said.

The completed project will produce effective practices to encourage Black women to pursue graduate degrees in Physics. These will be shared with other physics departments “to promote conversation and change,” Chini said.

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