Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Vision Statement

Diversity Drives Discovery


USRA seeks to reflect the increasingly diverse workforce in the space-related sciences by promoting awareness, understanding, and appreciation of diversity throughout the organization and beyond. USRA values diversity, equity, and inclusion as this increases the quality of the workforce and brings diverse opinions, life experiences, and points of view to the decision making process.

The purpose of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is to:

  • Develop, recommend, plan, and implement initiatives that support DEI at USRA
  • Strengthen the sensitivity of all employees to diverse races, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, lifestyles, genders, and ages
  • Serve in an advisory role in areas such as diversity and equity in recruiting, hiring, and promoting
  • Promote opportunities for underrepresented groups to apply to and onboard at USRA
  • Increase understanding of working within a diverse workforce, to include managing a diverse workforce

The President and CEO of USRA appointed the chair of the DEI Committee and, together with the Vice President Human Resources and the chair, selected the 14 members from a pool of self-nominated employees to represent the Institutes and Programs across the organization.


The DEI Committee shall meet formally once per month. In addition, informal “pop-up” meetings may be called on short notice to discuss a particular topic or topics.

DEI initiatives are formulated and discussed by the committee. Members can then edit descriptions in a series of google docs. Once an initiative is complete, the DEI Committee Chair submits it to the USRA President and Vice President of HR for discussion and approval.

The DEI Committee Chair shall present a summary of DEI activities and initiatives at the USRA Directors’ Meetings.

The DEI Committee will communicate the initiatives via the USRA monthly newsletter and possible emails to all staff from the USRA President and the Vice President of HR.

"So many organizations seem to struggle when it comes to improving diversity in leadership. In my experience, unless and until diversity becomes a routine consideration in hiring and promotion decisions, little is likely to change. The best leaders recognize the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion to the organization and reflect that in their actions."

"2020 brought unscripted challenges to USRA and employers around the globe. These challenges amplified the need for organizations to rapidly redefine what would set them apart as employers. For USRA, the power of our partnerships are tightly connected to fostering an inclusive culture where innovation thrives and individuals progress. For me, it means we must infuse inclusion into every aspect of the organization – from talent selection and development to our policies and values."

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Committee Members

Dr. Joan Schmelz
Director, Science and Technology Institute,
USRA Chair, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee

DEI committee member Carlene Campbell

Carlene Campbell
Executive Assistant to the President and Chief Executive Officer, USRA

Elena Einstein

Dr. Elena Einstein
Principal Manager, Contracts and Grants, USRA

Eric Hammond

Eric Hammond
Director, Government Relations

Dr. Kennda Lynch

Dr. Kennda Lynch
Scientist, Interdisciplinary, LPI

Angie Quaranta

Angie Quaranta
Human Resources Manager

Bill Reach

Dr. Bill Reach
Associate Director for Science Operations on SOFIA, USRA

Edgard Rivera-Valentin

Dr. Edgard G. Rivera-Valentín
Planetary Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI)

Dr. Davide Venturelli

Dr. Davide Venturelli
Associate Director, Quantum Information Sciences, USRA

DEI Initiatives

Initiative 1 – USRA staff consider adding Personal Gender Pronouns to their e-mail signature

DEI Committee Members: Elena Einstein, Ryan Hendricks, Ed Rivera-Valentin

Approved 8/25/2020

Status: Complete

More Initiative 1 info
initiative 1 gender pronouns graphic
  • Including your Personal Gender Pronouns in your email signature helps to normalize and de-stigmatize non-binary gender pronouns;
  • Gender is not always reflected or cued by someone’s outward appearance;
  • Including Personal Gender Pronouns in email signatures ensure we respect everyone’s identity;
  • Announced in Jeff Isaacson’s 22 Sep 2020 email to all USRA staff;
  • Summarized in Oct 2020 USRA newsletter;
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Nov 2020 USRA Directors meeting.
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Initiative 2 – USRA hosts a Career Expo exhibit booth at the 2020 National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) virtual conference (5-8 Nov)

DEI Committee: Kennda Lynch & Sha’Rell Webb

Approved 10/19/2020

Status: Complete

More Initiative 2 info
initiative 2 National Society of Black Physicists graphic
  • Kennda Lynch (LPI), Sha’Rell Web (LPI), Jennifer Becerra (NASA Intern Program), Melissa Corning (AFRL Scholars), and Taifa Simpson (NASA NPP) staffed the USRA exhibit booth at the virtual conference;
  • Kennda Lynch presented an invited talk in the Earth and Planetary Systems Track of the conference;
  • Leslie Proudfit (SOFIA) created the meeting graphic;
  • Joan Schmelz wrote the summary for the Dec 2020 USRA Newsletter;
  • Kennda Lynch wrote the Lessons Learned summary with the input from all who participated in the booth;
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Mar 2021 USRA Directors meeting;
  • Under construction: a plan to leverage this experience and lay the groundwork for future recruitment at similar conferences (NSBE, SACNAS, SHPE, SWE, etc.).
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Initiative 3 – USRA sets standards and uses templates for new employee introductions and promotion announcements

DEI Committee members: Elena Einstein and Angie Quaranta

Approved 11/19/2020

Status: Complete

More Initiative 3 info
Initiative 3 intro and announcements graphic

New Employee Introductions:

  • Elena Einstein drafted an employee introduction template that HR can include with the 90-day checklist – the set of instructions sent to hiring managers;
  • Angie Quaranta submitted it to HR and shepherded it through the vetting process;
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Mar 2021 USRA Directors meeting.

Promotion Announcements:

  • Promotion announcements will become a regular part of USRA corporate life;
  • USRA will adapt the model that Jeff Isaacson uses when he announces promotions at the VP and Director level;
  • The Executive Leadership Team will set new corporate policy by determining what management level will make the promotion announcement and how widely that announcement with be distributed within USRA.
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Initiative 4 – USRA begins a mentoring program for underrepresented minority students

DEI Committee members: Zaheer Ali

Approved 12/10/2020

Status: Complete

More Initiative 4 info
initiative 4 mentoring program graphic
  • USRA partnered with PeopleGrove on a one-year, mentoring pilot program;
  • DEI committee members volunteered for this program: Zaheer (SOFIA), Assaf (GESTAR), Elena (NAMS), Rosa (GEARS), Falguni (STI), and Carlene (HQ);
  • Mentors completed training and onboarding;
  • Mentors were connected with mentees;
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Mar 2021 USRA Directors meeting;
  • Pilot program ended in Dec 2021.
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Initiative 5 – DEI component of USRA’s public facing web page

DEI Committee members: Carlene Campbell & Falguni Patadia

Approved 2/2/2021

Status: Ongoing

More Initiative 5 info
initiative 5 usra website graphic
  • Create DEI content for the USRA public facing web page;
  • Include DEI photos and bios of committee members;
  • Include DEI initiatives and status of each;
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Mar 2021 USRA Directors meeting;
  • Add more content as the work of the DEI committee continues.
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Initiative 6 – USRA DEI Speaker Series

DEI Committee members: Eric Hammond & Ed Rivera-Valentin

Approved 4/6/2021

Status: Ongoing

More Initiative 6 info
initiative 6 speaker series graphic
  • The speaker series includes talks on DEI topics via Microsoft Teams;
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Jun 2021 USRA Directors meeting
  • Potential topics include broadening participation in STEM, unconscious biases, anti-racist philosophy, intersectionality, cultural sensitivity, microaggressions, imposter syndrome, stereotype threat, and vulnerability in the workplace.

USRA DEI Speakers Series Kickoff: Diversity 101
19 Aug 2021
Joan Schmelz (Director of the NASA Postdoctoral Program, Chair of USRA’s DEI Committee)
Ed Rivera-Valentín (Planetary Scientist at LPI, Member of USRA’s DEI Committee)
Eric Hammond (Director of Government Relations, Member of USRA’s DEI Committee)

USRA DEI Speakers Series: Bold Leadership Actions in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access
28 Jan 2022
Alicia J. Knoedler (Office of Integrative Activities, National Science Foundation)

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Initiative 7 – USRA Discovery Newsletter Articles on DEI Topics 

DEI Committee Members: Bill Reach & Joan Schmelz 

Approved 6/30/21 

Status: Complete 

More Initiative 7 info
USRA Discovery Newsletter Articles on DEI Topics
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Initiative 8 – USRA Social Media Manager

DEI Committee member: Elena Einstein

Approved 1/31/22

Status: Ongoing

More Initiative 8 info
colorful buttons with social media icons
  • Hire a social media manager to build the USRA brand; 
  • Attract visitors/followers from diverse backgrounds to USRA programs; 
  • Develop and execute a social media strategy; 
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the Jan 2022 USRA Directors meeting. 
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Initiative 9 – Inclusion Infusion

DEI Committee member: Joan Schmelz

Approved 2/19/22

Status: Ongoing

More Initiative 9 info
graphic showing the word "inclusion" with the "US" in "inclusion" in uppercase and a different color

Inclusion Infusion

These check lists should help infuse DEI culture throughout USRA as staff members build DEI awareness, become stronger DEI allies, and transition to DEI advocates. During the year, staff should participate in some of the activities below and keep a list with titles and dates. When filling out the annual performance appraisal, copy this list into the Diversity box of the current appraisal tool. 

Performance Appraisal Level 3 Activities: 
Building DEI awareness (learning, reading, viewing, listening)

  • Attend DEI seminars and participate in DEI events at USRA, NASA, etc;
  • Read DEI blog posts from the diversity committees of your professional organization (AAS, AGU, DPS, AMS, etc.);
  • Attend a lecture or workshop about DEI topics at a meeting of your professional organization (AAS, AGU, DPS, AMS, etc.);
  • View a Ted Talk on diversity;
  • Listen to DEI Podcasts: pick one from a recommended list like here or here or just google ‘best podcasts on diversity and inclusion;’

Performance Appraisal Level 4 Activities: 
Becoming a stronger DEI ally (engaging, contributing, participating)

  • Join a diversity committee or working group at USRA, NASA, or your professional organization (AAS, AGU, DPS, AMS, etc.);
  • Write an article on a DEI topic of your choice for a diversity blog or newsletter;
  • Invite and escort your supervisor/manager to a DEI event at NASA or your professional organization (AAS, AGU, DPS, AMS, etc.);
  • Write the DEI section of a proposal or policy document you are working on;
  • Mentor a student or intern from an underrepresented community;
  • Give a talk at a minority-serving institution;
  • Assist in planning and/or organizing a DEI event at USRA, NASA, or your professional organization (AAS, AGU, DPS, AMS, etc.);

Performance Appraisal Level 5 Activities: 
Transitioning to a DEI advocate (leading, managing, guiding)

  • Chair a diversity committee or working group at NASA or your professional organization (AAS, AGU, DPS, AMS, etc.);
  • Start a DEI committee at USRA, NASA, etc;
  • Give a colloquium on a DEI topic at USRA, NASA, or a university;
  • Write and publish a peer-reviewed paper on a DEI topic;
  • Give an invited talk on a DEI topic at a professional conference;
  • Lead a DEI-related discussion for your team/department.

Note: This material was presented by Joan Schmelz at the June 2022 USRA Directors meeting.

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Initiative 10 – USRA Booth at SACNAS

DEI Committee member: Ed Rivera-Valentin

Approval Pending

More Initiative 10 info
SACNAS logo: Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science
  • USRA would sponsor a booth at SACNAS where it can advertise its many internship programs as well as other employment opportunities
  • Complement LPI attendance at SACNAS where staff have hosted workshops that provide tools for writing competitive internship applications and introduce students to the broad studies in the planetary sciences
  • Staffing: full-time by a member of the USRA communications team and part-time by those from LPI who attend the conference
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the June 2022 USRA Directors meeting.
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Initiative 11 – Unconscious Bias

DEI Committee member: Bill Reach

Approved 5/24/22

Status: Ongoing

More Initiative 11 info
Two people with laptops sitting across from each other at a table. One person is white and the other is Black. The words "Implicit Bias" appear above the table.
  • Require hiring committees to view short (~5 min) unconscious bias video
  • Implementation: use NASA video shown during the orientation for proposal evaluation panels 
  • Request: HR add viewing this video to the hiring process
  • Presentation by Joan Schmelz at the June 2022 USRA Directors meeting.
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