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2021 CAREER Faculty

Shetay Ashford-Hanserd - Organization, Workforce, and Leadership Studies

The Project

The Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) framework defines six types of capital as an “array of knowledge, skills, abilities, and contacts possessed and utilized by communities of color to survive and resist macro- and micro-forms of oppression” from an anti-deficit perspective. Additionally, spiritual capital is included since Black and Latino communities have historically relied upon spirituality/religion as critical sources of grit, resilience, and capital.

In this longitudinal, mixed-methods study, I examine the effects of CCW on the persistence of Black and Hispanic women in the P-20 STEM and computing (STEM+C) workforce pipeline as they matriculate from middle school into high school, into a bachelor’s degree program, and into graduate school or the workforce. First, I will identify a national cohort of Black, Hispanic, and White female and male students from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 dataset to study the effects of CCW on their persistence in rigorous STEM+C course-taking by race and gender. Next, I will identify a Texas cohort of Black and Hispanic female computing majors by distributing the ACCEYSS STEM+C Majors survey at seven Texas HSIs and HBCUs. Finally, I will follow the Texas cohort until their first year after graduation, documenting their career trajectories and counter-life-herstories. My research activities will be supported by my collaborators, Dr. Li Feng and Dr. Emily Summers – MMSA; a postdoctoral researcher; and a national advisory board.

I will disseminate my research findings to industry leaders, educators, students, researchers, and communities of color through research outlets and education products such as the undergraduate ACCEYSS Learning Community, ACCEYSS STEM Success Stories conference, and a platform for girls of color in grades 5-12.

CAREER Journey

I began my journey toward becoming an NSF CAREER awardee after submitting my first NSF CAREER as a newly minted assistant professor in summer 2016. While that proposal was unsuccessful, I was confident that my prior experience as an NSF project manager was substantial. However, reviewer feedback suggested I still needed to establish my unique contributions as an emerging scholar.

Since 2016, I have strengthened my research agenda and submitted grant proposals to support my emerging research group. From July 1, 2016, to July 31, 2020, I submitted a total of $7,352,628 in research grant proposals yielding $2,097,309. Before submitting my second and final NSF CAREER proposal on August 11, 2020, I served as PI of an NSF INCLUDES grant and a USDA / NIFA grant. I have also served as Co-PI of an NSF Computer Science for All project. My current NSF CAREER award builds upon my previous NSF-funded research, STEM persistence research, and dissertation study.

Based on my experiences, I recommend the following to faculty pursuing NSF CAREER funding. First, build strategic relationships by serving on grants, attending professional development meetings, and scheduling one-on-one meetings with program officers. Second, align your work with the needs and goals of your funders. For example, I developed a community-engaged fundable research agenda, which was a natural fit for the NSF INCLUDES program. Additionally, I integrated my research agenda with teaching activities, which further strengthened my CAREER proposal. Finally, I encourage you to be consistent and persistent. It may take multiple attempts but believe that you will eventually achieve success.

 

Yoichi Miyahara – Physics

The Project

Quantum technology is a class of technology based on the exploitation of the principle of quantum mechanics, such as quantum entanglement and quantum superposition, and promises revolutionary improvement in computing, communications, and sensing. As quantum technology becomes reality, exploration of new types of materials that can be used as quantum bits (qubits)—the fundamental building blocks of quantum technology—is increasingly important for their more wide-spread use.

My CAREER project pursues experimental techniques to characterize diverse nanometer-scale materials such as nanoparticles, nanowires, and single molecules as qubits. Quantum information stored in a qubit is very fragile and hard to read out and thus requires a new readout technique, which is the main subject of the project. The outcome of this project will enable us to “discover” a broad range of nanomaterials that have not been investigated as qubits. These new types of qubits could operate at much higher temperatures, enabling wider spread use of quantum technology.

CAREER Journey

I feel lucky and grateful to have been awarded a CAREER grant because it was my very first proposal submitted to NSF. I first learned about the NSF CAREER award while I was considering accepting the faculty job offer from Texas State. Previously, I had only worked outside the U.S.

At first, I thought CAREER awards were meant for young faculty and not for someone like me, who obtained my Ph.D. nearly two decades ago. Even after confirming my eligibility for the award, I was still skeptical because I had no idea how ageism might play a role in CAREER proposal reviews. So, I decided to talk to program officers to clear my doubt and also to figure out which NSF division would be most appropriate for my proposal. I ended up talking with four or five officers, and the conversations were very fruitful. They not only encouraged me to submit a CAREER proposal regardless of my age but also suggested the most appropriate division for my proposal after officers in multiple divisions discussed my project with each other. Some of them told me they would be interested in reviewing my proposal. These positive comments convinced me to give it a try.

After starting to write the proposal, I asked some of my department colleagues to read it through. I really appreciate the useful comments they provided me. I am also grateful for the grant writing workshops I attended and the feedback from external grant writing advisors. All the support I received was invaluable for someone like me, who had no experience in writing NSF grant proposals, to get awarded a CAREER grant.

 

David Rodriguez - Biology

The Project

Negative effects of fungal diseases on humans, plants, and wildlife have increased over the last few decades, but host-pathogen interactions are still poorly understood. One reason is that biodiversity of both hosts and fungi is critically understudied, especially in tropical forests. To detect which hosts are responsible for transmitting introduced fungal pathogens, we need to measure genetic diversity in populations across invaded landscapes.

The amphibian-killing fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, originated in Asia and is considered one of the most destructive pathogens to wildlife. It has caused population decline and even extinction of amphibian species in different parts of the world. Studies of disease dynamics can benefit from the development and use of genetic methods applied in the field. Recent advances in genetic technology have allowed DNA sequencing and qPCR-based diagnostics using portable equipment, making it possible to study disease dynamics as they occur in nature.

This project will incorporate these technologies along with canopy sampling techniques to investigate post-invasion dynamics of fungal chytrids in tropical forests of Ecuador, while measuring genetic diversity in both the fungus and its infected amphibian hosts. The research will also incorporate our ongoing Education Abroad-Ecuador program that consists of rigorous and immersive field-based courses for Texas State University undergraduate and graduate students. We hope to use this curriculum to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in ecology and evolutionary biology through impactful research training and educational experiences. Our project will also address the need for undergraduate bioinformatics training in the Department of Biology. 

CAREER Journey

Applying for the NSF-CAREER program is an involved process that requires time and resources to build a well-written narrative with a solid research plan and sufficient preliminary data, which together speak to the scientific merit and feasibility of the project. However, this particular program also requires a well-integrated education component.

While much of my previous work focused on chytrid research in Brazil, new collaborations at Texas State opened teaching opportunities in Ecuador. By leveraging our field-based Education Abroad program, startup funds, and internal grants (REP and IRA), I was able to develop new techniques to help answer questions about host-pathogen interactions in the chytrid system. These preliminary results served as the foundation for my proposal.

Even though I wanted to submit a proposal as soon as possible, I believe I benefitted from taking a more patient approach. I also learned a lot by serving as a reviewer for two NSF proposals and submitting to other NSF programs before writing my CAREER proposal. My first CAREER submission was declined, but I was able to add more preliminary data and leverage reviewer comments to refine and improve my second submission, which was funded. Working at a Hispanic-Serving Institution provides ample opportunities to develop activities that serve our increasingly diverse student population, and well-planned, sincere activities will align tightly with NSF’s Broader Impacts criterion. Lastly, having trusted and knowledgeable colleagues review my proposal was extremely beneficial to the entire process.

 

Hiro Lee Tanaka - Mathematics

The Project

Symplectic geometry is a field of geometry that efficiently encodes laws of motion dictating classical problems in physics. The last few decades have seen a burst of activity in the field thanks to the emergence of powerful algebraic tools called Fukaya categories. At the same time, the development of a new language for “spectral algebra”—an algebra that mixes traditional notions of adding and multiplying with more contemporary tools for studying shapes of arbitrarily high dimensions—has allowed us to organize sophisticated structures using algebraic intuitions. 

These two storylines have been highly fruitful but have yet to cross-pollinate. This project aims to construct a long-sought-after bridge: to not only produce spectral methods for studying symplectic geometry but also to establish symplectic tools for studying spectral algebra. The end result would accomplish a task that mathematicians have been unable to achieve for over 25 years and create new opportunities for understanding the fundamental building blocks in both branches of mathematics.

The project will also support numerous educational initiatives aimed at enriching and diversifying the mathematics community. These include the creation of a math podcast for and by students, a workshop for students to learn contemporary mathematical techniques of interest, and various co-curricular activities aimed at fostering communities of emerging mathematicians.

CAREER Journey

My first two applications for NSF grants were unsuccessful. So, this time around, I decided to send early drafts to colleagues to solicit feedback. I was lucky to hear back from colleagues who had served on CAREER grant review panels; their feedback allowed me to significantly reframe my grant proposal. I also had a chance to serve on a review panel for an unrelated grant. The NSF often seeks researchers to serve on panels, and I would encourage everybody to reach out to program officers to ask if there are any upcoming panels needing reviewers. The panel experience shed light on all my past rejections; I certainly don’t feel nearly as bad for being rejected. Finally, I can’t speak for other fields, but my NSF program officers have all been incredibly helpful. Speaking to them and asking questions earlier on would have greatly streamlined my grant-writing process. I would encourage anybody applying for a grant to reach out to the relevant POs to ask questions, including what kinds of budget items are allowed.