Diversity in Science Carnival #16: Asian-Pacific Heritage Month

This month’s Diversity in Science Carnival is dedicated to Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. We’ll talk about strong Asian-Pacific women, Asian-Americans in education, and at the end there is an entire section dedicated to educators who would like to incorporate more information about Asian-Pacific Americans into their classroom.

For demographic facts on the Asian-Pacific Islander population, see the US Census Bureau’s Press Release on Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. Some highlights of the report are that there are 17 million Asians living in the United States; 5.6% of the population.  Asians excel in educational attainment; 50% of adults aged 25 and over possess a college degree. This is compared to only 25% of the overall American population over age 25. Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders account for 0.4% of the population, number 1.2 million people.

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute found that despite their higher levels of educational attainment, Asian Americans continued to suffer long-term unemployment in 2011. They concluded that the patterns of unemployment were a result of nativity (a high number of foreign-born Asians), racial bias, and the high number of Asians that reside in California, a state which has struggled in the economic crisis. It is unknown if these same unemployment rates are also within STEM fields, which seemingly have no shortage of jobs. Within STEM fields, 6% of undergraduate (2008) and graduate (2009) students are of Asian-Pacific Islander descent.

The Asian-Pacific Islander population contribute to the rich cultural diversity of the United States. The Pacific Island National Park blog featured photos and videos from Pacific Islander Heritage Day on May 11, 2012 at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Hawaii.  Participants in this event had the opportunity to experience traditional demonstrations and activities related to Native Hawaiian culture and the cultures of other areas of the Pacific.

Professionally, the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) exists to advance Asian heritage scientists and engineers in education and employment. Andrea Stith blogged about the first annual meeting of SASE which occurred on the weekend of September 30, 2011. The second annual  meeting will occur from October 11-13th, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. If you’re interested in following SASE, they have their own blog as well.

Asian-Pacific Women 

At the UW SACNAS Chapter Blog, Dr. Amber Caracol talks about her lineage of strong women, stemming back to her family history in Korea and the Philippines.

Dr. Amber Caracol and Mama Caracol (her grandmother) at Mama Caracol’s 75th birthday celebration

Amber, who is the former president of the UW SACNAS Chapter and now teaches Anatomy and Physiology and Biology at North Seattle Community College, decided to host her students as guest bloggers on her personal site. She talks about Celebrating Diversity in her course, Biology 100 and how her class honored Asian-Pacific Heritage Month through blogging. The posts are about a variety of topics from teaching children about science, what diversity means to Tomoko Okada and how she has developed more confidence in her identity as a result, one person’s story of personal growth after attending a non-Christian school for the first time in their life, Raphael Davis’ experiences traveling in Asia in the Navy and his experiences living on the diverse ship, the USS Kitty Hawk,  the science behind the life of Jonathon Franz, who works as a firefighter and paramedic in Tacoma and traveled to Haiti in 2011, and Rebecca Y’s experience working with Earth Corps. While not all of these posts are directly related to Asian-Pacific Heritage month, they highlight the diverse experiences of Asian-Pacific (and non-Asian-Pacific) scientists at the community college level.

A post by an Indian field biologist who discusses her experiences balancing work and home and comparing US and Indian graduate school and research traditions.  If you are a mother doing field work, she provides great advice on how to take your child with you.

Continuing with the amazing female Asian-Pacific American scientist theme, Hyphen Magazine, which is dedicated to Asian American culture,  featured Jane Luu for women’s history month. Dr. Luu is a Vietnamese-American astronomer who co-discovered the Kuiper Belt while still in graduate school!

The STEMinist blog recently featured Materials & Process Engineer Michelle Hsia, who got to work on a Forumla SAE race car as an undergraduate. The blog itself was founded by Ann Hoang, an Asian-American Software Engineer at the University of Oregon.

Looking for a way to inspire more girls to get involved in math and science? Three engineering students think they have a way to do this by exposing young girls to STEM using toys. Their project was featured as a Kickstarter of the Week and you can help them bring this to fruition.

Asian-Americans in Education

As mentioned earlier, data support the notion that Asian-Americans are successful in academia. Some attribute Asian-American success to the cultural values passed from parents on to their children. On the other hand, the high levels of success lead to stereotypes of Asian-Americans being the “model minority” or the assumption that all Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are monolithically successful.

The National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) at New York University conducts research on this very topic.  A book specific to Asian-Americans in education is Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education by Robert T. Teranishi. One review of the book noted that Teranishi addressed issues in data collection and data quality when examining the Asian-Pacific Islander American community and another addresses the Asian American male experience in higher education.

There are several notable college presidents who are Asian-American or Pacific Islander. To name a few:

Jim Yong Kim, M.D., Ph.D. (Anthropology)
President, Dartmouth College
next president of the World Bank

Mark Mitsui (Educational Leadership and Policy)
President, North Seattle Community College

Bob H. Suzuki, Ph.D. (Aerospace Engineering)
President Emeritus of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Leslie E. Wong, Ph.D. (Educational Psychology)
President, Northern Michigan University
now President, San Francisco State University

Henry T. Yang, Ph.D. (Mechanical Engineering)
Chancellor, University of California, Santa Barbara

Phyllis Wise, Ph.D. (Biology)
Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For Educators

For educators interested in teaching students about Asian-Pacific American scientists, you can track the contributions of Asian-Pacific American scientists using this timeline that goes back to 1901!  Also, there is a book that profiles Asian-American scientists for grades 6 and up. If you’d like to teach your students about the most brilliant Asian Americans of all time, this website has you covered! You can also teach about Asian American innovators

Speaking of younger students, the Angry Asian Man Blog highlighted two remarkable high school scientists: Angela Zhang, who won a $100,000 scholarship for her innovative cancer research and Li Boynton, who was invited to sit in with Michelle Obama during the President’s State of the Union Address.

Just for fun, why not teach your students about the science behind the wok? Or how about an entertaining discussion on Asian earwax?

For college students and those who are of drinking age, you can discuss the biology behind the “Asian Flush”, which may be caused by riceAmasian offers both the most specific and the most entertaining scientific approach to the “Asian Glow” (or the “Asian Flush”) resulting from the buildup of acetaldehyde. He also discusses the emasculation of Asian American men in popular culture and provides the perfect mix of humor and science to illustrate his points.

Amasian provides a scientific approach to the “Asian Glow” and also uses humor to illustrate his findings

Why not teach about all of the Asian-Americans who won a Nobel Prize? You could start by focusing on Steven Chu, a quantum mechanic who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997.

Here is a list of several other notable Asian-Pacific researchers and their fields:

Nobel Prize Winners in Physics
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
Steven Chu
Chen Ning Yang
Tsung Dao Lee
Samuel Chao Chung Ting

Nuclear physicist (experiments proved Lee/Yang theory)
Chien-shiung Wu

Nobel laureates in medicine
Har Gobind Khorana
Susumu Tonegawa

AIDS researchers
Flossie Wong-Staal
David Da-i Ho

Information Specialist in Computer Security
Tsutomo Shimomura

Expert on Superconductivity Technology
Paul Ching-wu Chu

Sickle-Cell Disease Researcher
Constance Tom Noguchi

Stay Tuned and Keep Blogging!

Thanks for reading. Special thanks to Dr. Danielle Lee of The Urban Scientist and Dr. Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org for contributing materials to this month’s edition.  The next Diversity in Science Carnival in June will honor Pride Month. Stay tuned for the next host…

Sabrina Bonaparte is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Washington (for one more week!) She is the manager of the UW SACNAS Student Chapter blog.  

Guest Blog: Teaching to Young Students about Plasma Science and Rocket Science

In an age where everything is becoming more and more technologically driven, a stronger emphasis has been placed on increasing the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce so that the US can continue to compete globally. As a result, STEM education is gaining more traction within educational circles. These are all positive developments. I still believe that there should be even more emphasis placed on empowering our youth in early childhood education to understand the importance of STEM. These students are highly impressionable without rigid ideologies. These young students are already scientists. They are fearless with a willingness to question everything and everyone. More importantly, we as citizenry can and must educate them so that they find their own voices with the willingness to innovate and critically think early on.

Since I strongly believe in the importance of STEM education, I had the opportunity to represent UW SACNAS and the University of Washington as I taught to young students about plasma science and rocket science. My outreach efforts were conducted at the Denise Louie Education Center, the Concord YMCA, and the Center for Linguistic and Cultural Democracy.

Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC): April 3, 2012

I had the distinct privilege of spending some time with the students, staff, and educators at the Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC) located in the International District. The overall mission of DLEC is to promote school and life readiness by providing multi-cultural early learning services to needy families and their children. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of teaching science to a class of 3 to 5 years old from very diverse backgrounds. Since some of these students were learning English for the first time, it meant that my words had to be concise, clear, and straightforward. With the help of lead teacher Brandon Blake, “master facilitator as I called him”, we were able to facilitate information about plasma science and advanced rocketry. Specifically, our discussion was about the substance of stars that fuels rockets. Brandon, also from Florida, had already familiarized his class about space and rocketry prior to my arrival. Since rocketry had been formally introduced, we focused primarily on understanding plasmas.


I taught the lesson primarily on PowerPoint using only still images and videos. I made sure to ask questions that would require the students to critically think. I always reiterated that there were no wrong answers so that everyone felt included in the process as we were all learning.

We started out with a discussion about what are the different types of substances (e.g. solid, liquid, gas, and plasma). A slide of us discussing the different substances was shown in the photo below. From this slide, everyone recognized these images and gained an understanding about the different states of matter. Most of the students were able to identify ice cubes, water, and boiling water based on their sight and touch perceptions. The students recognized the sun, but didn’t know that it was the fourth state of matter i.e. plasma.

In order to understand more about our sun being plasma, the class engaged in a series of conversations about our sun, why it is plasma, and what plasma looks like in real time using videos from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). In the videos, one of which was shown in the photo below, Brandon and I asked the students what they saw and why they thought a particular phenomenon occurred. Based on their observations, the students were able to identify spots and loops on the sun which represented sunspots and the magnetic coronal loops.

After going through a series of videos from SDO, I wanted the class to evaluate whether or not using plasma as fuel would be more efficient than traditional chemical rockets. Brandon and I had mentioned to the class that the first three states of matter have been traditionally used for chemical rockets. A video was shown where we asked the students who would win the race. Before the start of the video, we took a tally. Half of the students chose chemical rockets and the other half chose plasma rockets. Who do you think one the race? Some of the students soon realized that it was similar to the tortoise and the hare race. The class was so filled with excitement (Brandon and I alike) that we watched it again to make sure everyone understood why the plasma rocket won the race.

Since the plasma rocket won the race, we wanted to show the class what a future mission to Mars and deep space would look like. Our young scientists at the end of the presentation felt that if they stayed interested in science then they could contribute to the development of advanced rockets. We had a number of them saying that they wanted to become astronauts and go to Mars. Here was a pretty cool photo of the group with the hands held high and all smiles.

At the end of the presentation, I wanted the class to put into practice what they had learned. The class participated in two activities displaying their knowledge from the lesson. The two activities were playing with a plasma globe and building their own suns using sugar cookies.

Plasma Globe:

A plasma globe is a device that contains a mixture of gases that display an array of light illuminated when electrical power is supplied. All of the students had the opportunity to play with the plasma globe and make observations once they touched it.


Solar Cookies:

For the solar cookie activity, each student recreated the dynamics seen on the surface of the sun. Each student was given licorice, skittles, vanilla frosting, sprinkles, and a sugar cookie. In the bottom left photo, the students were hard at work creating their own suns. Each student did an amazing job remembering the information we had discussed. A recreation of the sun can be shown from the student in the bottom right photo.


After completing the activities, we decided to take a group photo of all the scientists. Special thanks to Brandon Blake and the DLEC for helping me put on a successful lesson.

Concord YMCA: April 18, 2012

I talked with about twenty elementary students at the YMCA\Concord Elementary in West Seattle. I did a similar presentation as I had done with the DLEC, except this time I introduced more about rocket science with these students. The race between the chemical rocket and the plasma rocket was a major hit with these students as well. Based on my experience working with the preschoolers, I decided to come up with a more interactive activity session using the plasma globe. I brought in props such as fluorescent light bulbs and asked the students what they thought would happen. Applying what they learned from the lesson, the students told me that the light bulbs should light up when placed close to the plasma globe. Some of the students mentioned that the gas inside the bulbs would be excited when approaching the globe. I was really impressed. My main objective was to empower these students to think critically and after one lesson with them I witnessed the transformation.

Center for Linguistic & Cultural Democracy (CLCD): April 18, 2012

I talked with home-schooled 8 year olds at the CLCD located in South Seattle about plasma science and rocket science. Since this was a smaller group, I had the opportunity to also discuss general science and engineering topics. I also interacted with the parents and discussed topics to consider when educating their children.

I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Sharon Cronin for helping me coordinate the events at the Concord YMCA and the CLCD.

Student Spotlight: Savannah Benally

Name: Savannah Benally
Major:  Secondary Teacher Education
Year in School:  Master’s Program
Hometown:  Shiprock, New Mexico
Ethnicity:  Native American

After completing my Bachelor’s degree at New Mexico State University, I came to the University of Washington to continue studying biochemistry in the Molecular and Cellular Biology graduate program. As I pursued my degree, working with community organizations to engage middle school students in science motivated my interest to teach general science. Upon completing a master’s degree in science, I began a teacher’s education program to become a middle school science teacher. I am excited to work with middle school students in tribal schools to encourage their pursuit of STEM careers.