Published: Jan. 9, 2020 By

An innovative Physics Department committee made up of students, postdocs, staff and faculty with diverse backgrounds and life experiences has earned a President’s Diversity Award for the CU System. The awards, which were announced Dec. 6, are given to a handful of units and individuals annually and come with a $2000 prize. 

The Representation, Recruitment and Retention (R-Cubed) Committee originated with an NSF-funded Departmental Action Team (DAT), which was externally facilitated by then-postdoctoral fellows Joel Corbo and Dan Reinholz from 2014-2016. To date, the DAT project has created 12 DATs at CU and 6 at CSU. They are currently funded through a partnership between NSF, OIT, and the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering. 

The work of the R-Cubed Committee has given rise to many departmental changes, including creating inclusive departmental promotional materials, hosting events to welcome admitted students, and coordinating equity and inclusion trainings. R-Cubed created a popular seminar series about diversity: Equity, Inclusion and Cookies (EIC), which is attended by a broad cross-section of the department. 

The group also initiated efforts to improve access to faculty assistance in all levels of classes, and to restructure Physics majors’ introductory course sequences, to create a stronger sense of community within the major. 

R-Cubed chose innovative projects by collecting departmental feedback and analyzing institutional data. They summarized their findings to define what Inclusive Excellence means for the Physics Department, made recommendations to other departmental committees, and supported individuals who have had experiences of being excluded. The group coordinated with Women in Physics and CU Prime recruit and support women and underrepresented students, and with Facilities Management to create gender neutral bathrooms. 

The Physics department has been growing in recent years, but before this effort began, the fraction of women in physics had been declining in line with national trends. “Coincident with the efforts of the Physics DAT and R-Cubed, the fraction of women in Physics has been increasing,” says Noah Finkelstein, a professor of physics education research. The fractions of Latina/o, Black, and Native students in the Physics department have also risen dramatically in recent years. 

It’s rare for a departmental committee to receive recognition at the CU System level. “The R-Cubed Committee stands as a role model for making sustainable changes around diversity and inclusion. We frequently describe their work to DATs we currently advise,” said Sarah Wise, a Departmental Action Team facilitator. “Their example will be important as CU Boulder starts implementing the IDEA Plan.”