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“We have built a team to think about a more transdisciplinary approach to make sure the science we do that is more inclusive.”

Lasers from space

Laura Dunansen, an assistant professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland, spoke to the women virtually about the GEDI program, for Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, which uses lidarlight detection and ranging from space to map forests on Earth.

A refrigerator-size box is plugged into the side of the International Space Station and uses three lasers pointed at the Earth’s surface. Launched in 2018, GEDI has collected more than 16 billion data points since 2019, she said.

Duncansen translates those data points into estimates of forest coverage. All of the data is free and downloadable.

“The Brazilian Amazon is crucial. You’re losing so much protected forest,” she told them. “These are the most important places to maintain protections and then expand it.

“And we can rely only on satellite mapping. We always need field data.”


Elizabeth Wentz, dean of the Graduate College at ASU and director of the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience, had the women write down 20 accomplishments that made them proud.

“What is it that inspires you? What is it that you’re passionate about?” she said. “Thinking about what inspires you is important in keeping this work going.”

Wentz, a professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at ASU, said that women are 33% less likely than men to engage in self-promotion.

“To say, ‘I accomplished this.’ Part of the reason why is that women are punished for self-promotion. There’s a negative consequence,” she said.

“We’re always facing these tensions and, in many respects, held to a higher standard.”

She told the women that it’s important to seek out external validation for themselves and each other.

“If the award doesn’t exist, create it,” she said.

Engaging communities

The women heard from Christina You-sun Park, assistant director of the Studio for Creativity, Place and Equitable Communities in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. She described how the studio works with communities to define what the residents want and empower them to achieve it.

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between us as humans and the systems we’re living in. How do we make that connection closer?” Park said.

“It’s a great portal to make people feel like they have ownership of things, that they have a connection and the ability to make change in the community.”

Park said that working with artists or food culture are good ways to get a foothold into a community and begin the process. The women divided into groups to discuss how they might use creative-placemaking principles in their communities.

Bianca Chaves Marcuartú said that there is a collective of women who produce jam in her Brazilian state of Para, and her group proposed tying their value to the health of the forest.

“We thought that we can make people understand the meaning and importance of keeping the forest protected and preserved for food so you can have those things you cherish,” she said.


One of the participants, Natalia Uribe Rivera, who works for SERVIR Amazonia in Colombia, said she and her peers found the conference sessions to be informative and, sometimes, emotional.

“It’s triggering memories of how hard it was for me to achieve the point I am now in a professional way,” said Uribe, who did her PhD in the Netherlands and created an app that uses geospatial technology to help farmers improve crop production.

“Now I’m more confident about my skills, but I see my colleagues are not that way.

“It’s touched me to see that there are many things to improve in our culture, and how important women are to making change,” she said. “But I’m so motivated because I know we’ll have a nice group to be empowered and work together for the community.”

Top photo: Natalia Uribe Rivera (left), of Colombia, and Vanesa Martín, with SERVIR Amazonia in Huntsville, Alabama, work together on an example of using volunteer and crowdsourced data for obtaining land-cover information during one of the sessions of the weeklong “Advancing Women’s Prosperity in the Workplace” conference. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

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