KU News: KU physicist named to Class of 2022 MacArthur Fellows

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KU physicist named to Class of 2022 MacArthur Fellows
LAWRENCE — The fellowship — widely known as a “genius grant” — is an $800,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential. The program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations.

First College of Liberal Arts & Sciences dean candidate to present Oct. 17
LAWRENCE — Alfred López is one of four candidates who will present their vision for the College in today’s rapidly changing landscape of higher education. López currently serves as the head of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University, a position he held in the interim on two separate occasions before receiving a permanent appointment in 2022.

KGS scientist, partners receive NSF funding to expand program to reduce barriers in STEM occupations
LAWRENCE — A National Science Foundation grant will allow a researcher from the Kansas Geological Survey and her collaborators at seven other institutions to expand the reach of a program designed to reduce hostile workplace climate barriers that individuals face when entering STEM occupations. Blair Schneider, KGS science outreach manager and associate researcher, will lead the development of a trainer certification program and oversee logistics related to workshops offered by the ADVANCEGeo program.

Full stories below.

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Contact: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-864-8858, [email protected]
KU physicist named to Class of 2022 MacArthur Fellows
LAWRENCE — The MacArthur Foundation announced Steven Prohira, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, as a Class of 2022 MacArthur Fellow.

The fellowship — widely known as a “genius grant” — is an $800,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential. The program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations.

As a physicist, Prohira is advancing the study of cosmic rays and ultra-high energy neutrinos through a rare combination of expertise in three distinct areas: theory, engineering and experimental design. He proposes a novel method for detecting the notoriously elusive sub-atomic particles known as ultra-high energy neutrinos — important messengers from outside of our solar system and very difficult to observe.

“Detection of ultra-high energy neutrinos is a relatively small field within physics, but it’s one with a host of creative and exciting experiments and, hopefully, discoveries just around the corner,” Prohira said. “My hope for this grant would be that it might introduce more folks to the fascinating world of neutrinos and encourage them to explore the physics that can be done with them at both the largest and smallest scales.”

The MacArthur Foundation calls Prohira “an early career scientist with a unique combination of talents and bold ideas … well-positioned to help transform what we know about long-held mysteries of our universe.”

“We’re tremendously proud of Professor Prohira’s achievements that led to this exciting recognition,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “It will be thrilling to see what he discovers next as he continues on his path of discovery that is illuminating fresh, new ideas about the cosmos and is pushing out the limits of our knowledge.”

Prohira said this particular award focuses specifically on creativity.

“Believe it or not, science is a very creative pursuit,” he said. “It is also highly collaborative. I think advancements in science get made when creativity and this diversity of thoughts and skills come together.”

Prohira’s research has appeared in such journals as the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics and Physical Review Letters, among other scholarly publications.

His research at KU has included a project to measure ultra-high energy neutrinos and ultra-high energy cosmic rays that interact in the Antarctic ice, or with the Earth’s atmosphere, creating radio waves.

More recently, Prohira has invented a potentially game-changing technique for detecting neutrinos in an energy range beyond what has been measured to date.

Prohira is a KU alumnus, having earned a master’s degree in 2016 and a doctorate in 2018 from the university. As a doctoral student, he was one of just 52 graduate students nationwide selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2017 Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program.

David Besson, professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, was Prohira’s graduate advisor. The MacArthur Fellow said that as one of the first experimental physicists working in ultra-high energy neutrinos, Besson laid all of the groundwork for Prohira’s own research program.

Before coming to KU, Prohira earned a bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga University in 2009.

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Contact: Evan Riggs, 785-864-1085, [email protected]
First College of Liberal Arts & Sciences dean candidate to present Oct. 17
LAWRENCE – The first candidate for the University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) executive dean position will give a public presentation from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, in the Beren Petroleum Conference Center in Slawson Hall.

The presentation will be livestreamed, and the passcode is 952208.

Alfred López is one of four candidates who will present their vision for the College in today’s rapidly changing landscape of higher education. The College is the largest academic unit at the university, and the executive dean will strategically and collaboratively lead the school in its scholarly and educational contributions.

López currently serves as the head of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University, a position he held in the interim on two separate occasions before receiving a permanent appointment in 2022. An affiliated faculty member at the university since 2017, López also serves as the director of the Global Studies Program and the director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Purdue.

Each candidate will be announced approximately two business days before their scheduled campus visit. Public presentations for each of the candidates will take place in the Beren Petroleum Conference Center in Slawson Hall on the following dates:

1. Alfred López: 2-3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17
2. Candidate 2: 2-3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19
3. Candidate 3: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25
4. Candidate 4: 2-3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28

Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to offer their impressions and observations of each candidate online through a limited-time feedback survey. Feedback on López’s presentation is due by 5 p.m. Oct. 19. A recording of his presentation will be available the morning after the presentation on the search website until the survey closes.

Each candidate will meet with Chancellor Douglas A. Girod, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, senior administrators, College chairs and directors, deans, KU Endowment, the KU Alumni Association, university governance, graduate and undergraduate students, and the College dean’s office executive committee and administrative staff.

Co-chairs Simon Atkinson and Kim Warren lead the search committee. Atkinson serves as the vice chancellor for research, while Warren serves as associate professor of history in the College and associate dean of Academic Affairs for the KU Edwards Campus.

“The search committee has recruited and vetted an amazing pool of candidates who are highly invested in KU’s large programs in the liberal arts and sciences,” Warren said. “The finalists are strong scholars in their disciplines who have also had experience growing programs across fields.

“Search committee members have spent a lot of time with the candidates on Zoom and look forward to introducing them in person to colleagues and the larger KU community.”

As head of Purdue’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies, López provides leadership and vision for one department and 15 interdisciplinary programs with 385 undergraduate students, 240 students seeking a minor and 80 master’s and doctoral students across three graduate programs. He organized the school’s search for the director of film studies and served on the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Strategic Planning Committee, which prepared a new five-year strategic plan.

López serves as a mentor to students in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program as well as the Global Studies Program. He has significantly increased the enrollment and number of majors and minors available in both programs. A tenured faculty member at Purdue since 2012, López serves as a professor of English and comparative literature and is an affiliated faculty member of American studies. He served as an associate professor in the English departments of the University of Mississippi and Florida International University before arriving at Purdue in that same role in 2007.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, López was selected as one of 15 faculty members to participate in the Purdue Insights Forum, a yearlong comprehensive training program for administrators. Additionally, he was named Outstanding Faculty Member by the Latino Cultural Center in spring 2018.

López’s research and teaching specialties include the Global South and postcolonial studies, Cuban and Cuban-American studies and Latin American and Caribbean studies. He has written five books, including “José Martí: A Revolutionary Life” in 2014, with one more book forthcoming. López is the founding editor of the Global South, the leading academic journal of globalization studies.

López earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Florida International, a master’s degree in English from The Ohio State University and a doctorate in English from the University of Iowa. He also conducted a graduate study at the Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico.

About the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

The approximately 11,000 undergraduates, 1,700 graduate students, 700 faculty and 375 staff who comprise the KU CLAS share a commitment to excellence. The department provides students with a broad foundation of arts, liberal arts and sciences concepts that will expand what they know and provide new ways of thinking about challenges.

The College is home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, as well as the School of the Arts and School of Public Affairs & Administration. Those departments, programs and centers offer more than 150 majors, minors and certificates, which prepare students with fundamental skills and knowledge that will serve them in any career.

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Contact: Julie Tollefson, 785-864-2114, [email protected]
KGS scientist, partners receive NSF funding to expand program to reduce barriers in STEM occupations
LAWRENCE — A National Science Foundation grant will allow a researcher from the Kansas Geological Survey and her collaborators at seven other institutions to expand the reach of a program designed to reduce hostile workplace climate barriers that individuals face when entering STEM occupations.

Blair Schneider, KGS science outreach manager and associate researcher, is co-principal investigator on the $1.2 million “ADVANCE Partnership: Empowering scientists to transform workplace climate through the ADVANCEGeo community-based intervention program” grant. Schneider will lead the development of a trainer certification program and oversee logistics related to workshops offered by the ADVANCEGeo program.

“Research shows that hostile workplace climates have impacts at multiple levels: psychological levels, physiological levels, professional levels, economic levels and broader societal levels. These barriers have resulted in a STEM workforce that is primarily made up of cis, white, able-bodied men,” Schneider said.

Most of the solutions implemented to address these barriers have centered on financial hurdles, lack of access to resources or role models, and limited or nonexistent networks. Though important, these solutions to date have not resulted in significant improvements in diversity in science, technology, engineering and math as well as geoscience fields, Schneider said.

“Our team argues that one primary barrier, which is prevalent at every step of someone’s recruitment and retention in STEM and geosciences, is the impact of hostile climates and exclusionary behaviors, which includes sexual and other forms or harassment, bullying, discrimination and microaggressions,” Schneider said. “I have experienced many of these exclusionary behaviors in my path to becoming, and staying, a scientist. I want to change the status quo so that others don’t have to overcome these unnecessary and painful obstacles along the way.”

The ADVANCEGeo program began work in 2017 to address sexual harassment in the earth and space sciences. Since then, the program has expanded to address a range of exclusionary and discriminatory behaviors. Schneider and her colleagues have developed a variety of workshops, tailored to different STEM disciplines, to address workplace climate, including implicit biases, microaggressions, bystander intervention training, safety in the field and development of effective codes of conduct. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the team converted the trainings to a virtual format.

“The evaluation data show that the virtual setting is just as good, sometimes even better, for attendees. We plan to offer the majority of our trainings in the future in the virtual planet to reduce our footprint on Mother Nature,” Schneider said.

The project has also developed a public resources website hosted by the Science Education Research Center at Carleton College.

The new funding will allow the ADVANCEGeo partnership to develop a trainer certification program to teach others how to lead workshops and discuss topics related to hostile climates and exclusionary behaviors, to work with other departments and organizations for an extended period instead of offering one-and-done workshops, and to develop a business model to ensure sustainability of the ADVANCEGeo program. More information about ADVANCEGeo trainings is available by visiting the Request a Workshop page on the program’s website.

In addition to Schneider, ADVANCEGeo co-principal investigators are Erika Marín-Spiotta (lead PI, University of Wisconsin-Madison), Jessica Blois (University of California, Merced), Melissa Burt (Colorado State University), Meredith Hastings (Brown University), Sora Kim (University of California, Merced), Allison Mattheis (California State University, Los Angeles), Debbie Hanneman (Association for Women Geoscientists) and Billy Williams (American Geophysical Union).

ADVANCEGeo’s network of partners includes more than 10 professional societies and nonprofit organizations: the Association for Women Geoscientists, Earth Science Women’s Network, American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, American Meteorological Society, Long-Term Ecological Research Network Office, BlackInGeoscience Network, GeoLatinas — Latinas in Earth and Planetary Sciences, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Geosciences, Society of Latinx/Hispanics in Earth and Space Science, and 500 Women Scientists.

For more information, contact Schneider by email.

The Kansas Geological Survey is a nonregulatory research and service division of the University of Kansas. KGS researchers study and provide information about the state’s geologic resources and hazards, including groundwater, oil and natural gas, rocks and minerals, and earthquakes.

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Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, director of news and media relations, [email protected]

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