Vanderbilt University astronomy professor Keivan Stassun has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Million-Dollar Professor and also received a National Science Foundation grant, to keep women, other minorities and persons with disabilities in the physical sciences field.
Stassun's work with the grant funding will supplement his current studies and efforts on keeping underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Data show that, as freshmen who are underrepresented minorities are just as likely as their majority peers to express an interest in physical sciences majors, but they’re overwhelmingly more likely to switch by their sophomore or junior years,” Stassun said in a press release. “Immersive engagement in research, starting very early, can be a key intervention to help these students develop a ‘science identity,’ which is so crucial to persistence in the field.”
According to the university, Stassun, who is the father of a child with autism, will align his grant work with the Initiative for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt where he is a director.
“We have an opportunity to advance discovery and innovation through more meaningful inclusion of neurodiverse individuals, including Vanderbilt undergraduates who are on the autism spectrum," Stassun said in a statement.
One-fifth of Stassun's award will support his astrophysics research group which is known as a leader in producing underrepresented minorities and individuals with autism for Ph.Ds in physics and astronomy.