Category: Spotlight

Heart Touch Program, Chemistry Grad Student Collaboration Designed to Eliminate Career Stereotypes and Spread Cultural Diversity

By Peter Mullins
CCBP Student Assistant

Two university graduate students have begun a collaboration designed to change the stereotype of science and engineering as a career for white males only. While doing so, they also seek to educate the community about different cultures.

Fan Yang, a native of China, is a graduate student working in UA’s Crossroads Community Center. She is also a doctoral student in Social Work, who, along with Pandora White, an African-American graduate student in biochemistry, seeks to promote career opportunities in science regardless of race, sex and country of origin. Their efforts are part of Heart Touch, a program begun and directed by Yang for the past two years to enhance cultural competency and create greater understanding and knowledge between and among different ethnic groups.

Their most recent effort, on Oct. 12 in Shelby Hall on the UA campus, was entitled “#welooklikeresearchers.” Attendees were treated to dinner and a talk by White on career opportunities in science open to both men and women and to all racial and ethnic groups. White’s principal interest is in diabetes research.

“If people are rarely exposed to female or minority scientists,” she said, “they tend to think all scientists are male, white Americans. There are far too few female professors involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) research at the university. Our collaboration is designed to address that image.”

White got the idea for the collaboration at a conference she recently attended where conferees were using the “#Ilooklikeanengineer” Twitter hashtag to raise awareness of white male domination in the sciences and engineering.

To emphasize the diversity of looks and interest within the science field, White reported on her trip abroad in Taiwan, where she was conductng research, and her subsequent trip couch surfing in Japan.

Following White’s talk, the audience was treated to a Tai Chi performance led by local instructor Ping Shi and her students.

Yang said future programs that address stereotypes and enhance cultural competency across race, gender and nationality are being planned.

Photos by Jianlong Yang

Fan Yang, originator of the Heart Touch Program, prepares the next event designed to overcome stereotypes in career opportunities.
Pandora White tells of her personal experiences during a symposium overcoming stereotypes in career opportunities.


Local instructor Ping Shi demostrates the art of Tai Chi to the students attending Heart Touch program.
Local instructor Ping Shi demostrates the art of Tai Chi to the students attending Heart Touch program.

Sustained Dialogue and the Interfaith Initiative

Crossroads Community Center currently offers programs such as Sustained Dialogue and the Interfaith Initiative, and new programs are in the works. In fact, one of them may just be the one that you initiate!

Students from varied backgrounds and majors are invited to share their creativity and vision as part of the Crossroads Experience. Join us at Crossroads Community Center and share your talents and energy while developing intercultural relations and knowledge. Here’s who we are, how to learn more about us and how to contact us:

Crossroads Community Center
232 Ferguson Center
The University of Alabama

If you like addressing challenging issues in a respectful, affirming environment, join us at Crossroads and take advantage of the opportunities for sharing cultures, conducting research and creatively engaging in the many cultural challenges on our campus, in the community and around the world.

UA students are shown here with Ambassador Hal Saunders, founder of Sustained Dialogue.
UA students are shown here with Ambassador Hal Saunders, founder of Sustained Dialogue.

We live in a multicultural society and it is not a temporary condition. It is here to stay. We seek students who desire to develop the tools for living in and contributing to a multicultural society. Crossroads is your gateway to acquiring these tools.

And what are these tools? One is research. The kind of research we conduct at Crossroads and at our sister program, the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, is known as community-based research or CBR. Only when we conduct research about our programs and interactions do we know what works and what doesn’t, what builds capacity and what doesn’t. Research is fundamental to all learning, and that includes intercultural learning.

In Sustained Dialogue students discuss important social issues, get to know each other, and work on those social issues together. The model may be used in national, community, corporate or campus settings. Effective democracy and economic development depend on building effective relationships. Sustained Dialogue helps make them happen.

Student moderators are selected by The University of Alabama and trained by the national Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. By offering their students experience with the SD model of dialogue, colleges and universities improve their campus communities and enhance the professional and personal lives of their students during and after college. SD helps students make time to understand perspectives of individuals they would not otherwise meet; interact comfortably with all kinds of people; build relationships across communities; and gain communication skills necessary for increasingly diverse academic, social and work environments.

How it works. Students are placed in dialogue groups of 8–10 diverse members who meet one hour a week with two student moderators who help facilitate the conversation about issues such as social identity, campus life and politics.

Interfaith Initiative. Instead of seeing personal beliefs as differences that divide, the Crossroads Interfaith Initiative draws on the work of the Interfaith Youth Core (, to advance a view of religious and philosophical traditions as bridges for cooperation and understanding. This movement promotes:

Crossroads was a co-sponsor with New College for a recent Sleep Out on the Quad, which explored how different traditions address hunger.
Crossroads was a co-sponsor with New College for a recent Sleep Out on the Quad, which explored how different traditions address hunger.
  • Respect for the diverse religious and non-religious identities that people have.
  • Mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds and traditions.
  • Common action for the common good.

In spring 2013, UA students attended IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute in Atlanta to learn more about how they could improve interfaith opportunities on campus. As a result of this experience, Crossroads Community Center hosted Dwell Better Together in which panelists of different religions and beliefs addressed students prior to the Community Service Center’s poverty awareness Sleep Out event on the Quad, an event designed to heighten awareness of poverty. Panelists who were Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, atheist and agnostic spoke about each tradition’s approach to caring for those in need.

Another intercultural tool is creative activity. Creative activity, which is not limited to the arts and humanities, includes art, music, dance, sculpture, writing, communication, the sciences, social science, sports, debate and drama. All of these and more, can be explored as part of the Crossroads Experience.