By Victoria Merlino
CUNY is out of this world.
A group of 15 CUNY astronomers and physicists from across the university system have banded together to create CUNY Astro, an alliance dedicated to improving diversity in astrophysics and have students look to the stars a lot more.
“Our driving force is to establish world-class astrophysics and astronomy research and teaching at CUNY, and to bring that high level of science to students from underrepresented populations,” said Timothy Paglione, an astrophysicist at York College who chairs CUNY Astro’s faculty, in a statement.
Often these professors are the only astrophysics in their respective colleges; by creating a network, the professors created their own type of university-wide department with a wide range of interests.
AstroCom NYC is a CUNY program with CUNY Astro professors funded by the National Science Foundation, which has already launched 38 minority and women undergraduates into astronomy and physics majors, with 13 of those students further pursuing doctoral degrees. Currently, fewer than 5 percent of astrophysics Ph.Ds are held by African-Americans and Hispanics, according to a statement by CUNY.
“With AstroCom NYC, we’re giving them mentored research experiences that show them what the careers are like and prepare them for graduate study. But even those who don’t go on to grad school still count as success stories because we’ve helped them graduate with their science degrees,” Paglione continued.
Promising students accepted into this AstroCom community receive special benefits, like stipends and research mentors.
“In my family and the Dominican neighborhood I’m from, typically not a lot of people are into science — they want to go into business or politics or play baseball,” said Brynner Hidalgo, a sophomore at Borough of Manhattan Community College who is in the AstroCom program, in a statement.
“But when I was a junior in high school, I took a physics class and thought: This is really interesting. Once I got to college, I thought maybe it was something I want to go on with. I spoke with my mother and gave her a very lengthy explanation that I was studying the universe and our place within it. She was like, ‘How do you earn money from that?’ I said, ‘This is what I’m passionate about,’ and she understood. Now I’m starting to meet more and more blacks and Hispanics in the STEM fields and I’m really proud to see people from our community striving,” he said.