This fall, ASU welcomed the inaugural cohort of Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows and Presidential Graduate Assistants for 2021–22. Selected by two review committees and spread over eight colleges, the 26 presidential scholars were welcomed to ASU at a recent reception hosted by the Graduate College.
Launched as part of the LIFT Initiative — ASU's commitment to Black students, faculty and staff and other underrepresented groups and individuals — the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship and Graduate Assistantship programs, administered by the Graduate College, were created to diversify the ASU faculty, award graduate students from underrepresented communities research and teaching assistantships and support ASU’s ongoing efforts to develop and advance a culture of belonging and excellence.
An acronym for Listen, Invest, Facilitate and Teach, LIFT is elevating conversations around the importance and significance of this transformation for the lived experiences of ASU’s Black students, faculty and staff.
“The Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship and Presidential Graduate Assistantship programs help ASU accelerate meaningful change by bringing talented, diverse students and postdocs to the university,” said Elizabeth A. Wentz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate College. “Our new scholars are advancing research that will help ASU contribute to a national agenda for social justice, a goal of the LIFT Initiative.”
ASU established the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Program to create a pathway to tenure-track positions at ASU for scholars from underrepresented communities. Four new fellows joined ASU this year.
Dominic Bednar, who recently earned his PhD in environment and sustainability from the University of Michigan, is one of those four. His passion for energy and sustainability brought him to ASU.
“I decided on ASU just mainly because of the rich community of energy and environmental justice scholars, but also because of folks deeply involved in the work of global futures and sustainability,” Bednar said.
Bednar’s research looks at energy justice, which advocates for everyone's adequate access to affordable, sustainable household energy. More narrowly, he focuses on residential energy poverty, which refers to the lack of access to energy services. He hopes his research will raise awareness and recognition that people are experiencing energy poverty daily and it disproportionately affects Black and brown communities.
Upon completion of the fellowship, Bednar plans to continue doing this work but, hopefully, as an assistant professor at ASU, where he hopes to bring graduate and undergraduate students as well as community members into his lab to envision what the energy future could and should be. He believes the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program will help him to do this.
“As a presidential postdoctoral scholar, I really have the time and space to think — to think about where my work is now, where I want it to go in the future, but also using this time to engage with community members and build up collaborations,” Bednar said.
Also established this year, the Presidential Graduate Assistant program is a merit-based award created to support the recruitment, professional development and faculty mentoring of doctoral students in all fields whose research, teaching and service will contribute to advancing the ASU Charter. There are 22 graduate students in the Presidential Graduate Assistant 2021–22 cohort.
One Presidential Graduate Assistant scholar, Kelsie Herzer, a doctoral student studying civil, environmental and sustainable engineering, is interested in the intersection of engineering and ethics.
“My goal is to change the curriculum at ASU. I would like to see a lot more incorporation of environmental justice and environmental racism themes incorporated into the engineering department,” Herzer said.
Her research looks at uranium remediation, and ultimately, she hopes to have some kind of technology or better understanding of where plants can be grown, what kinds of agricultural practices need to be carried out and how those can be managed to minimize the uranium taken in by the plants.
Herzer, too, hopes to become a professor and continue doing research upon completion of her doctoral program. She believes the Presidential Graduate Assistant program will help her to attain these goals.
“I think it's a really great opportunity that has opened many doors for me personally,” Herzer said.
DeAndre Augustus, also a Presidential Graduate Assistant scholar, is a doctoral student focused on justice studies. More specifically, he is researching the triangle effect of the U.S. Supreme Court, Black and other communities of color, and the police. He is looking at where the negative risk comes between minority communities and the police and says it can be traced back to Supreme Court rulings. He hopes his research will lead to a better vetting process when it comes to judicial selection committees.
He is deeply passionate about his research, having both attended law school and worked in law enforcement. It was during his time in law school at St. Thomas University in Miami that Augustus actually heard about the justice studies graduate program at ASU because one of his professors, Donald Tibbs, graduated from the program years prior. The two have stayed in touch, and Tibbs introduced Augustus to several professors and researchers he knew.
“I'm not from Arizona, had never been here before I came to ASU, so with that, a community already based simply because of knowing an alum has been just greatly impactful,” Augustus said.
In the future, he hopes to be on judicial selection committees and teach law.
The Graduate College is preparing the call for proposals to go out to ASU academic units for the 2022–23 presidential postdoctoral fellowships and graduate assistantships.
Presidential Graduate Assistants
Gloria Appiah Nsiah
Vidya Chandrasekhar Krishnan
Aurora Munoz Casarrubias
Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows
Written by Jenna Nabors