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Summer Blanco

Meet Summer Blanco, a graduate student in the Department of Plant Biology. As a diversity, inclusion, and equity advocate Summer Blanco has initiated a variety of DEI efforts within the Department. Summer is a  PhD student in the lab of  Dr. Jim Leebens-Mack, and her research aims to understand the evolution of anther colors in Geranium. Additionally, Summer is co-advised by Dr. Tati Russo-Tait, Assistant Professor in Cell Biology, in the ACCESS (Advancing Critical Consciousness, Equity, and Social Justice in STEM) lab. Their work together uses Critical Race Theory & Paulo Freire's Critical Consciousness frameworks to understand Latiné girls' understandings of gender and race inequality in STEM and how these understandings are informed by their intersectional identities and lived experiences of inclusion and exclusion.

As a leader in diversity and inclusion, Summer Blanco has led the effort to establish the Diversity Preview Weekend for the Integrated Plant Sciences (IPS) program, which is aimed at recruiting new graduate students from historically marginalized groups to Plant Biology. During these Diversity Preview Weekends prospective IPS applicants from  diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to ask current Plant Biology graduate students questions about the program, get feedback on their graduate school application materials, and meet with faculty members in the IPS program. This is now a yearly event. In addition, Summer secured funding to waive the application fee for IPS applicants that participated in the IPS Diversity Preview Weekend. These efforts greatly lower the entry barrier for potential applicants that may otherwise not be certain how to apply to the IPS program at UGA, or do not have the resources to apply to this program. These efforts are also benefiting  the Plant Biology Department by contributing to a diverse and inclusive community within Plant Biology.

Beyond these recruiting efforts, Summer Blanco also collaborated with Dr. Shu-Mei Chang  to secure funding  to invite early career Plant Biologists from historically marginalized groups (e.g., Black, Indigenous, and Latinx) to speak to the Department. This effort (known as Graduate Retention Speaker Series), broadened the weekly departmental seminar series to include more traditionally underrepresented voices. The invited speakers under this program are known to significantly advance both research and diversity efforts in the Plant Sciences and they speak to both of these topics. In addition to their traditional “science” seminar, the invited speakers give a second seminar on the broader impacts of their work, and they also participate in brown bag lunches with graduate students. In addition to benefiting the whole Department, these seminars also give PBIO graduate students from underrepresented groups the opportunity to meet, converse, and build relationships with current leaders in the Plant Sciences, witness role models in action, and encourage students to stay in the Sciences.

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