Student Spotlight: Faith Sims

Name: Faith Sims
Major: Pre-Engineering
Year in School: Freshman
Ethnicity: Navajo/Sioux/Cherokee


My name is Faith Sims. I’m half Navajo and my clan is red house. I’m born and raised in Seattle, WA. I have been with SACNAS since my senior year in High school, and as an incoming freshman I nominated myself for historian. I am currently Pre-engineering, but I hope to pursue Civil/Environmental Engineering, and a minor in Spanish. With this degree, I plan to design and build water system in places where water resources are scarce. After the University of Washington, I hope to join Peace Corp and travel for missionary work. As for SACNAS, I hope to document our chapter providing a good image of who we are as Natives and Hispanics in science fields at the University of Washington.


Guest Blog: “The Scientist of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”

Before I can discuss the topic “The Scientist of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”, I think that it is important to provide some contextual background about me. I am an African American male in the first year of my PhD program at the University of Washington majoring in aerospace engineering. Specifically, I am working with a plasma physics group to investigate experimental plasma physics with applications toward space propulsion.

In order to better understand my path, I will frame my journey toward graduate school. I would also like to highlight Shaun Harper who performed a recent study on successful black males in academia. In his study, I concluded that the main motivating factors behind the successes of black males were due to strong parents, strong teachers, and strong mentors. With the adjective, strong, meaning that these people had a positive influence that lead to upward mobility. From this study, I could have easily been one of the participants. My K-12 education up to middle school was localized in an area where violence surrounded the public schools. Even though these schools lacked key resources and were not the best educational environment, there were still a few great teachers. I was fortunate to receive strong guidance from both my parents and those teachers. My parents taught me to avoid violent situations and to strive for success through hard work and dedication. My teachers taught me to strive for excellence by always challenging myself. Afterward, I was accepted into a high school International Baccalaureate (IB) program which challenged me to want to do even more with my life. The primary tenet of this IB program was Rene Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” I was encouraged to think about my future and what I wanted to become. Since I had always had a fascination for the universe and what lies beyond the vastness of the unknown, I chose aerospace engineering as my college field of study and the University of Central Florida (UCF) because of the close proximity to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). With this decision, I became the first person in my family to attend college.

As a result of strong parents, strong teachers, and strong mentors, I developed a mentality for success that was fueled by persistence and determination. While at UCF, I had the opportunity to interact with scientists and engineers from KSC. Furthermore, I had the opportunity and the privilege to participate in research oriented programs like the EXCEL Program, the NSF REU Program, the Research and Mentoring Program, and the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. All of these programs with their outstanding mentors lead to my preparedness toward graduate school.

Now that I am in graduate school, I realize that it was not just serendipity alone that got me to this point. Louis Pasteur said it succinctly with “Chance favors only the prepared mind”. As I move forward, I seek to learn from the journeys of other black scientists as I navigate my own. I would portray the “Scientist of Yesterday” as those that preserved through times of extreme prejudice and racism especially in regards to upward mobility and educational freedom. For instance, two African American scientists that stand out to me are Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver. Banneker taught himself mathematics and astronomy and contributed by publishing an almanac. Carver applied agricultural science which leads to innovative methods including the peanut. I would portray the “Scientist of Today” as those that built upon the foundation set by our ancestors. Two scientists that I follow today are Mae C. Jemison and Lonnie G. Johnson. Jemison was not only the first black women to fly in space but was also an American doctor. I admire her not only for the achievements she has acquired, but also her advocacy toward science education and diversity. Johnson is a mechanical and nuclear engineer who has had a career in energizing space probes using atomic batteries (being an aerospace guy, this is pretty cool stuff). He then went on to invent the Super-Soaker water gun. He is also a big advocate for research and development especially in the energy technology sector.

I strongly believe Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are the future of our country and the foundation of global competitiveness. The “Scientist of Tomorrow” should want to be a part of the STEM movement that takes today’s imagination and turns it into tomorrow’s reality. I extend Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” by asserting that my thoughts today can influence everyone’s tomorrow if I dedicate myself to the advancement of knowledge in the scientific community. The challenges we confront in these difficult times are profound; however, I believe in the principle that opportunities exist for future scientists to propel our nation forward. Ultimately, the call doesn’t start and end with me; there needs to be a larger percentage of STEM professionals who advocate for science education, research and development, and diversity. Will it be you? If so, then you potentially represent the scientist of tomorrow.

February is African American History Month

This week’s blog post is in honor of African American History Month and will be in similar format to our post back in November for Native American Heritage Month. Our SACNAS chapter is incredibly diverse, and unlike many other chapters across the country, we have several African American members. These next few posts will feature the story and experiences of one of these members, in following with the online community’s embrace of personal storytelling as a form of the expression of the diversity in sciences, such as #iamscience and This is What a Scientist Looks Like.

The African American Population

According to the 2010 US Census, 13.6% of the American population is Black or African American. This report also indicates that the African American population is growing at a faster rate than the population as a whole. The increase in the Black population (or any minority population for that matter) has ramifications for institutions such as higher education, which will see an increase in African Americans due to the growing population.

African Americans in Higher Education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 9.8% of the bachelors degrees conferred in 2008-2009 were to African Americans.  7.8% of males who received degrees were Black, and 11.3% of females were Black. For doctoral degrees, 6.5% were conferred to Blacks; 4.6% of males were Black, and 8.3% of females were Black. There are several reasons for the underrepresentation of Black males in higher education, which this blog post will not address. Recently, Shaun Harper conducted a study on successful black males in academia by drawing from a samples of males who had already been successful. This approach to the study allowed for very interesting policy recommendations for universities to follow to increase the number of successful Black males on campus.

At the university of Washington, 2.6% of Bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2008-2009 were to Black students, 2.8% of Master’s Degrees, 1.2% of Professional Degrees and 1.2% of Doctorates were awarded to Black students. All of this is below the African American population of Washington state, which is 3.6%.

The African American Community at the University of Washington

Just over 40 years ago, several students from the Black Student Union took over president Odeggard’s office and this sit-in changed the way the University of Washington viewed diversity. It was this sit-in that led to the creation of programs such as the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program and the creation of the space known as the Ethnic Cultural Center.

The Black Student Union and Black Student Commission continues to have a strong presence on campus. Currently, the UW also has a National Society of Black Engineers Chapter, a Black Law Students Association, the Association of Black Business Students, and some students are starting a chapter of the National Black Graduate Student Association.

African Americans in STEM Fields  

According to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation, Black males are 4.6% of all enrolled undergraduate students in science and engineering fields in 2008. Women comprise 8.1% of students in STEM fields. Additionally, African Americans comprise 5.9% of all bachelors degrees awarded in STEM fields.

Blacks comprise only 6.4% of the national graduate student population in the sciences in 2009. For engineering, the number is only 2.9%. Black females comprise 8.4% of the female graduate student graduate population in the sciences and men are 4.4% of the male population. Black males are 2.1% of the population of both genders of those enrolled in graduate fields in sciences and engineering. Blacks comprised 3.1% of those granted doctorate degrees in science and engineering in 2009.

Our student spotlight for this post is an African American male in Engineering. Although he is not one of the respondents in Shaun Harper’s aforementioned studies, he very well could have been. You will also be hearing more from Keon himself tomorrow.

Student Spotlight: Keon Vereen

Keon Vereen
Major:  Aerospace Engineering
Year: 1st Year Graduate
Hometown: Orlando, FL
Ethnicity: African American

I am a PhD student at the University of Washington majoring in Aerospace Engineering. Within my department, I am working with the plasma physics group. My research interests are focused on advanced in-space propulsion, experimental plasma physics, and plasma thruster development.

I am also involved in educational outreach initiatives to promote diversity within the science and engineering fields.

When I have free time, I like to go for a swim or run as well as hang out with my friends.

Student Spotlight: Yuríana Garcia

Name: Yuríana Garcia
Major:  Intended Bioengineering
Year in School: 2nd Year Undergraduate
Ethnicity: Hispanic

My name is Yuriana, I am a second year undergraduate at the UW. Early in my adolescence I found my passion for learning. It was in my biology class I was blown away by material presented to me. It was there that my journey in the sciences began. I was also very interested in engineering and technology, and so I decided to major in bioengineering with the hope to one day be able to do research that includes both the innovation of new technology and the biology of human species. I have worked on various research projects from studying techniques to analyze and sequence DNA molecules in the human genome in the Parvis Lab to examining the role of an enzyme in methanol metabolism in the Lidstrom Lab. In my free time I like to read, volunteer, listen to music, hike, and dance .

Guest Blog: Productive Group Planning

I spend a lot of my time collaborating with different groups, planning opportunities for communities to interact with scientists, and I’ve developed a slightly frightening habit in the last few months of enthusiastically blurting out, “Let’s use a logic model to plan our next event!”  Logic models have become indispensable tools in my professional work because they require articulation of project goals, objectives, activities, resources and expected outcomes. Read on and be prepared to publicly declare your nerd love of this handy planning tool.

 What is a logic model?

Many versions of logic models exist and they’re used for a variety of purposes, but generally they’re tools that identify why you’re doing a project, what you’re doing and what you expect to get out of it.  For the rest of this post I’ll share their use in the context of planning an event or activity, and from the viewpoint of a scientist who has cannibalized parts of the process that have best fit my needs in project planning with collaborators.

Why use logic models?


If you’re planning with a group, I highly suggest creating a draft logic model before your first meeting, especially if logic models are new to the group.  This can be done on Google documents and shared with other members of the planning group.  Then members can review the draft and make comments (using different colored font helps track changes) or come to the meeting prepared to discuss the draft.  I’ve found this process creates a structure for dialogue that prevents becoming mired in a brainstorm of activities and sets up the group to make decisions more efficiently.

Enhancing collaboration

Effective collaborations require identifying the needs and interests of all involved individuals and organizations, and where interests overlap.  Identifying partner motivations is not always easy, especially when organizations with different cultures are interacting.  Logic models provide a tool for participants to clearly articulate their interests and a way to identify overlapping motivations by crafting large-picture goals and objectives as a group.

Anchoring ideas

Often, people have lots of good ideas for activities to do for events or projects and planning conversations get mired in discussions of possible activities. Decisions about what activities we choose to do for a project result from balancing constraints of available resources and what we’re trying to accomplish.  Logic models provide a concrete framework to identify these factors, making decisions about prioritizing or editing activities much easier, especially if the project expands and needs to be called back to a manageable size.

Maximizing benefits

While we hope that our projects go well, how will we know that our event or program was successful? What evidence will we use for grant proposals or reports to demonstrate success?  Using logic models ensures that you will know what information you want to collect to document success and help you effectively articulate the impacts of your project.

A logic model for scientists

After a year of helping to plan programs and events as part of my position at SoundCitizen, I finally realized I needed a better set of tools to be able to assess if a project was a success (program evaluation!).  I spent a morning with professional evaluator Dr. Andrea Anderson and Dr. Tansy Clay.  Andi patiently explained the theory of logic models and their use in planning and evaluation to two unpracticed scientists.  The result of that training was this tool – a Logic model for scientists.

How to use “Logic Model for Scientists”

Example of the ‘Logic Model for Scientists’


The first section you should tackle are the goals. The point of this part of the model is to place your program or event in the large picture – as Andi explained them, the goals are the “lofty humdingers.”  The grandiose impacts or changes you hope your actions will accomplish.  I’m not going to lie – the first time I did this part of the model and even in subsequent use, leading a group through discussing this part feels really odd (especially with scientists) but as the planning moves forward the goals provide critical touchstones that allow you to keep perspective and make decisions based on common goals.


Next, you should identify your objectives. Objectives are the smaller, more specific and measurable goals that will help you achieve your lofty goals.  What’s the difference between a goal and objective?  While goals are broad and can’t really be validated, objectives are more narrow and concrete.  Many agencies and management professionals employ SMART criteria when creating objectives. This means the objectives are:


Figuring out how to create good SMART objectives isn’t easy the first few times, but I guarantee once you’ve had some practice, these objectives are life-savers in keeping planning and group discussions focused and productive.   If you’re interested in learning more about setting SMART objectives, here is a handout with diagnostic questions that will give you more information about setting productive objectives.

Activities & Resources

Once your goals and objectives are outlined, you’re ready to start brainstorming the activities that will support accomplishing your objectives.  You will likely find yourself going back and forth between identifying activities and considering the resources you have on-hand to accomplish them.  I have approached this part of the model by brainstorming possible activities, then editing based on available resources and by evaluating which activities best support accomplishing my objectives.


The outcomes section helps you develop what evidence are you going to look at to determine if you accomplished what you set out to do.  Outcomes are extremely valuable for documenting the impact of your activity or event, understanding how you will evaluate what went well and reflecting how things could be changed in future efforts to better accomplish objectives.  While it may not always be an appropriate use of your time and energy to create an extensive list with short, mid and long-term outcomes it’s worth spending some time considering outcomes to maximize the benefit from the energy you put into the project.

Amanda Bruner is a Research Scientist & Outreach Coordinator at the University of Washington.  Her current position with SoundCitizen is focused on broadening public participation in environmental research.