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Allison Nguyen
NASA Earth Applied Sciences Intern

As a person with mixed Vietnamese and French Canadian heritage, growing up I did not see many people who shared my cultural experiences or who looked like me, and oftentimes my experiences as a woman of color were dismissed or unheard.  As I discovered my love for science, I also discovered that there were very few people who were like me in the sciences. This has been a driving force for me ever since.

In my role as a graduate student at the University of California Santa Cruz, I study psycholinguistics (a field that combines psychology and language), with my work focusing on spontaneous communication and how we negotiate meaning between conversational partners. I also do a lot of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility work as a graduate student, including serving on the DEI committee as a student member. My work with that committee focuses on creating a more inclusive department through events and information. As a woman of color from an underrepresented background working in science, I feel a responsibility to be visible and to serve as a resource for others. When I saw the DEIA internship at NASA, which is an organization I admire and look up to for their pursuit of science, I felt that this was a dream opportunity to use my passion for DEIA work in order to contribute to NASA.

NASA’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility (DEIA) work is inspirational, and benefits all employees. Valuing diversity and inclusion creates a more thoughtful, productive workplace. In addition to making people of all backgrounds feel welcomed, by striving for inclusion in all aspects, workplaces can foster creativity and innovation (Chrobot-Mason & Aramovich, 2013).

At NASA, I am fortunate to work with an incredible team of mentors. Dr. Nancy Searby, who is the Capacity Building Program Manager for NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, Emily Adams, who works with the SERVIR team as the Eastern and Southern Africa Science Coordination Lead and gender point of contact, McRae Lenahan, who is the program manager for NASA’s Applied Sciences Communication Team, and Sydney Neugebauer, who is the Coordination and Analysis Lead for the Capacity Building program are all powerful women leaders who believe in doing the work of increasing inclusion and equity.

One project that I am working is the internal Speak Up email series (organized by McRae Lenahan, Yvonne Ivey, and Frances Adiele). This email series aims to highlight how language can contribute to an inclusive environment through spotlighting outdated terms, providing the history behind them, and then suggesting alternatives that are more inclusive. Each email describes a term and provides a replacement term that fosters inclusion. These emails have been highly successful in raising awareness of how language plays a role in the type of environment we create and has sparked some deep conversations about what words we choose to say. In addition to selecting some of the terms for this email series, I’ve also been working with McRae, Yvonne, and Frances to develop what the next steps should be and how to accomplish them, including broadening our reach and bringing in outside authors.

Another project that I am working on focuses on broader inclusion efforts at NASA, including highlighting ongoing inclusion work. One part of this is highlighting work the SERVIR team has done to increase inclusion in their service planning toolkit. To highlight that work, I, in conjunction with a team at SERVIR, prepared a panel event for Earth Science Applications Week to present the new SERVIR service planning toolkit, show examples of the toolkit in use, and demonstrate how inclusion is built into the toolkit. The goal is to show how NASA is already using inclusion in their work and to highlight ways in which the audience can think about incorporating inclusive techniques into their work, by using SERVIR as a model.

One of the most important things in doing this work is making sure that changes are sustainable and meaningful. The Speak Up email series and fostering broader inclusion work by highlighting ongoing work are two ways in which to make small changes that will have larger impacts across NASA and that, to me, is work worth doing.

Chrobot-Mason, D., & Aramovich, N. P. (2013). The psychological benefits of creating an affirming climate for workplace diversity. Group & Organization Management, 38(6), 659-689.


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