Marie Claire Chelini
It typically takes a few years for an academic’s impact to extend beyond their immediate circle. Alma Solis, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Nunn lab, has already helped make academia a less intimidating place for hundreds of students across the country.
Her efforts were recognized this Friday, April 30th, with the Evolutionary Department’s first Mossé Outreach Award.
“Alma has been here a short time, yet she is already having a positive impact in my lab, the department, and beyond to the university and surrounding community,” said Charles Nunn, Solis’ Ph.D. advisor. “She is very deserving of this recognition.”
Solis’ outreach is indeed broad and far-reaching. Based on her own experience, she conceptualized and coordinated informational panels and workshops for students from historically excluded groups, aiming at demystifying graduate school and the Ph.D. application process. The panels were a huge success, attracting over a hundred participants.
After seeing the majority of her high school classmates struggle with college applications and with the bureaucracies inherent to higher education, Solis realized that access to education depended on far more than grades. She credits her mother, a teacher who returned to university as an adult, for her own success in navigating college.
“My mother taught me everything, how to apply, how to find scholarships, how to drop classes,” said Solis. “A lot of students who go through community college don't graduate because they don't know these things.”
“There's a basic knowledge barrier,” said Solis. “If people can just break or dismantle that, you will have more students with a lot of possibilities and capabilities being able to achieve their dreams, instead of being held back.”
Her enthusiasm and commitment to inclusive academia are contagious, which allowed her to recruit the collaboration of a large proportion of the department’s graduate cohort.
“Alma’s outreach stands out because she doesn’t operate in isolation,” said Ph.D. student Madison Bradley-Cronkwright, one of Solis’ nominators. “She has encouraged the participation of other graduate students, and often shares resources, outreach opportunities, and her experience with us.”
Solis’ was an invited panelist for the Student Action for Farmworkers (SAF) and The Ebony Tower, organizations that aim at empowering and promoting scholars of color and/or from marginalized backgrounds.
Her passion for accessible and inclusive research and education have also made a mark in the department. Solis serves as a member of the department’s DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) committee. Among other initiatives, Solis organized the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Training in Evolutionary Anthropology Talk Series (EDIT EATS), which facilitates conversations that improve the department’s awareness and understanding of DEI issues.
“Alma is a leader in making our department more anti-racist and equitable,” said Ph.D. student Allie Schrock, Solis’ second nominator. “At the same time, she continues to work outside of the department to make science more accessible and inclusive. She deserves to be recognized and celebrated for all of her amazing work.”