UC Santa Cruz’s ‘Shadow the Scientists’ Initiative Recognized for Remarkable Contributions in Astronomical DEI Efforts

The University of California Santa Cruz’s science-inclusion initiative, Shadow the Scientists (StS), has been recognized for its significant contribution to promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of astronomy. The initiative is a part of the university’s Creating Equity in STEAM program and has been awarded the 2023 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). This prestigious award acknowledges the commendable efforts of the program’s founder, distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics Raja GuhaThakurta, coordinator Jameeka Marshall, and their international partners at the Gemini-North Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii.

The StS program was conceived in the summer of 2020 when scientists began utilizing telescopes from their homes due to COVID-19 social-distancing protocols. The initiative allows students, educators, and curious individuals worldwide to virtually accompany astronomers during their observations using advanced telescopes, such as the Keck Observatory twin 10-meter telescopes, Subaru 8-meter telescope, and Lick Observatory/Shane 3-meter telescope.

The StS program has been particularly successful in India, where a recent session hosted by the Gemini-North Observatory attracted over 1,000 participants from schools governed by the country’s Central Board of Secondary Education. The program’s authenticity, which is maintained by prioritizing real-time communication among the scientific team and not curating the content, allows participants to gain a genuine understanding of the scientific research process.

Participants in StS sessions get the unique opportunity to observe and interact with professionals in the field, gaining insight into their problem-solving processes, passions, academic journeys, and career paths. Additionally, they gain knowledge about the scientific principles behind the research and the technical aspects of the equipment used, including telescopes, spectrographs, and cameras.

Initially, the 2023 DEI Award was to be presented to Gemini-North Staff Scientist Brian Lemaux. However, Lemaux advocated for the entire StS team to be recognized for their collective efforts, a sentiment that was supported by Patrick McCarthy, director of NOIRLab, which operates Gemini-North. As a result, AURA decided to honor the entire StS team.

AURA is an association of universities and other institutions that constructs and operates astronomical observatories for the National Science Foundation and NASA. The consortium, based in Washington D.C., is dedicated to advancing research in astronomy.

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