Community building for Black environmental and marine researchers: Pathways to Open Science

By Ileana Fenwick, Alex Davis, Aneese Williams, Stefanie Butland, Julie Lowndes | April 26, 2023

Welcome to Pathways to Open Science, a remote event series for Black environmental & marine researchers to build community for the future of data intensive science! What you will read here includes numbers and facts we’ve reported to our gracious funders, but more than anything we provided an inclusive onramp for open science in an intentional way that will continue to inspire more equitable open science programming moving forward. The Pathways team is so excited to report that this series provided tangible skills that will accelerate the science of incredible Black researchers across the globe (we even had international participants!). While difficult to capture with numbers, the community, hope, and excitement within this space was invaluable. This program was a true labor of love for us as organizers who have often felt the burden of being one of few or the only Black researcher in the room. It is also a powerful testament to the powerful allyship of our organizers and funders in centering Black leadership in efforts to successfully serve our community as demonstrated here. It was an honor to create this space with our team and spearhead this effort, and we look forward to improving our approach to build even more community in the years to come.

The following is our final report to our funder Code for Science and Society’s Event Fund and CZI. We are so grateful for their support!

Ileana Fenwick ♥️

Point of Contact / Applicant Name: Ileana Fenwick, Julia Lowndes

Event Sponsor:

  • Openscapes
  • Black in Marine Science (BIMS, Partner)
  • Black Women in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Science (BWEEMS, Partner)
  • Open Collective (Fiscal Sponsor)

Name of Event(s): Pathways to Open Science

Date(s) of Event(s): January 26 - March 2, 2023

Event url:

Names of event organizers and their roles:

  • Ileana Fenwick, PhD Student, UNC Chapel Hill and Pathways Lead
  • Alex Davis, Postdoctoral Fellow, The Diversity Project at UCLA, and Pathways co-organizer
  • Aneese Williams, Environmental Management Systems Coordinator for the City of West Palm Beach, FL and Pathways co-organizer
  • Julie Lowndes Openscapes, Pathways support
  • Stefanie Butland Openscapes, Pathways support

How many participants did you have?

  • Jan 26: 80 attendees, 150 registered (capped registration)

  • Feb 2: 22 attendees, 96 registered

  • Feb 9: 27 attendees, 80 registered

  • Feb 16: 8 attendees, 47 registered

  • Feb 23: 17 attendees, 71 registered

  • Mar 2: : 8 attendees, 47 registered

Notes: We led Community Calls with lessons and guest speakers (bold) in alternating weeks from Coworking, where folks could come work socially and ask questions.

Our first Community Call in the series had over 80 participants! Subsequent Calls had lower attendance. This is expected, and we are celebrating impact not only in numbers, but in deep connections and stories. The impacts of Call 1 and subsequent sessions were different and we are assessing the success of the first and subsequent Calls and the Coworking sessions differently. In the first Call, a very large number of Black researchers were exposed to / introduced to Black leaders in the open data science world and to 80 people who were also interested. This was about welcoming new folks to open science. The impacts of subsequent sessions were more about developing real relationships, providing concrete guidance to specific questions folks brought, and leading to more true community among some of the people who attended multiple sessions.

Many folks from coworking attended all six events, and the connections are big and long-lasting. For example, one participant Aliyah shared her experiences learning R and Python in a small Coworking conversation with Dr. Farina from Howard University, a Historically Black College and University. Dr. Farina learned from Aliyah’s experience and plans to incorporate into her courses for undergraduates. Further, Aliyah is participating in a GIS class in France this summer, and Dr. Farina will share that opportunity with her students as well. This is one example of why we celebrate these connections, because their impact moves beyond the current programming and will expose students who were not present to opportunities and resources that otherwise would not have been shared with their professors.

We are interested in measuring impact not only by big numbers, remembering that Ileana Fenwick is an “n of 1” who has had an outsized influence. Ileana participated in an Openscapes event in 2021 funded by CS&S Event Fund, and is a powerful example of empowering folks to build community. This also aligns with “slowing down to speed up”, which we see again and again through Openscapes. “Small numbers are important” - Dr. Yvette Pearson, UT Dallas TOPS Supporting DEI in Open Science panel.

How were attendees and speakers / presenters recruited?

As designed, Ileana Fenwick spent many hours building on her relationships in the Black marine science community. She met 1:1 with many HBCU faculty, as well as BIMS and BWEEMS leadership to partner with liaisons and social media strategy. Attendees learned about the event through their HBCU professors, through BIMS and BWEEMS newsletters, and on Twitter and Instagram with original graphics featuring welcoming open science tips and Black researchers.

Ileana has presented about what she learned during the engagement process and “examining the cracks” the day of the first Pathways event at the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) Winter Meeting (blog post and recording) as well as for at the University of Toronto Mississauga Biology Seminar (slides) after the whole event series completed.

What were the original goals of your event? Did these goals shift over time? How and why?

Our goals stayed the same; we are very happy to have met our original goals. The goals were to convene a remote event series for Black environmental & marine researchers to build community for the future of data intensive science. We aimed to welcome folks to open science (Community Call 1) and provide opportunities for them to meet each other, hear stories from Black leaders (Community Calls 1-3), and have hands-on opportunities for followup (Coworking sessions 1-3).

Word cloud of sentiments shared by participants in response to 'Describe how you feel about (starting) your open science journey!' include nervous, excited, hopeful, open, encouraged.
Word cloud of sentiments shared by participants in response to “Describe how you feel about (starting) your open science journey!”

Zoom screenshot with caption at left. At right are video images of the 3 co-organizers.
Learning the power of yet. Fact: I don’t know how to do this yet

Provide a brief description of the activities / schedule.

This 6-part remote event series runs on Thursdays, January 26 - March 2. Event format alternated weekly (all virtual):

  • 3 community calls: 1.5 hour calls with facilitated discussion, mini-lectures and community conversations with Black data scientists, data science leaders and students
    • Full topics next paragraph
  • 3 coworking sessions: 1.5 hour calls structured for folks to bring their own work, practice skill building, screenshare, and ask questions.
    • February 2, 16, March 2 from 5:00 to 6:00 pm EST

January 26: What is open science anyway? What can it mean for you?

Learn all about open science and data organization skills that will save you time and energy!


  • Alex Davis, Postdoctoral Fellow, The Diversity Project at UCLA, and Pathways co-organizer
  • Ileana Fenwick, PhD Student, UNC Chapel Hill and Pathways Lead
  • Aneese Williams, Environmental Management Systems Coordinator for the City of West Palm Beach, FL and Pathways co-organizer

Zoom screenshot of smiling faces of Black people in a 5 by 6 grid. Some are waving
Zoom participants in our kickoff Community Call including co-organizers Ileana Fenwick, Alex Davis, And Aneese Williams

February 9: Building our skills for a better tomorrow

Hear from experts about building community and your data science toolkit for more efficient research!


  • LaTreese Denson, Stock Assessment Analyst, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center
  • De’Marcus Robinson, PhD Student, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, UCLA
  • Jason Williams, Assistant Director, External Collaborations at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, DNALC; Education, Outreach, and Training lead for CyVerse

Zoom screenshot of smiling faces of Black people in a 3 by 4 grid. Some are giving thumbs up.
Zoom participants in our 2nd Community Call including speakers LaTreese Denson, De’Marcus Robinson, and Jason Williams

February 23: Data Science is for US

Join the conversation! Hear all about our journeys into data science and building community for innovation.


  • SherAaron Hurt, Director of Workshops, The Carpentries
  • Tony Orr, Research Scientist, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center
  • Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI)

Zoom screenshot of smiling faces of Black people in a 3 by 4 grid.
Zoom participants in our 3rd Community Call including speakers SherAaron Hurt, Tony Orr, and Dawn Wright

What challenges did you face and how might you overcome them if you were to hold the event again?

Our time-budgeting was correct, but the way we distributed it was not. Ileana had budgeted time/month to focus on Pathways, and it was much more front-loaded with all the engagement with HBCU 1:1s, meeting with BIMS and BWEEMS leadership to design the strategy and write about the liaison opportunities for their membership newsletter, and then meeting with BIMS and BWEEMS liaisons, graphics designer, and social media liaisons individually to establish relationships before we began meeting regularly as a team. Building these relationships was part of the original proposal and event design, and were key to the event series’ success. In the future we’ll have to think about how to make that more manageable.

What were the event’s biggest successes?

One of the most frequent comments from participants and speakers has been how wonderful it is to see so many Black faces together. We heard real career stories including successes, struggles, and advice for how to learn. There were brave questions by participants and honest, reflective responses about how to show up and celebrate being Black in the predominantly white fields of marine and environmental science and open data science and at predominantly white institutions (PWI’s). We also learned and shared a lot of open source tools, open educational resources that we linked from our website following each event:

What steps have you taken to build or sustain the community after the event?

Challenge: aftercare of the community. We have a private Slack channel for participants inside our larger Slack for participants of all Openscapes programs. People were keen to join. There are currently 21 members including Stefanie Butland and Julie Lowndes (as of April 25, 2023). However, it is quiet there. Ileana has been posting a Thursday Tip each week since the event series ended, but without much engagement in this channel or in the broader Openscapes Slack. It will take development of an intentional approach to foster communication and community building here.

Alex Davis and Aneese Williams have joined the broader Openscapes Mentors community, where Ileana, Stefanie and Julie have already been active. From January-May through our bi-weekly meetings we are learning coaching skills with Tara Robertson, a DEI consultant and leadership coach who has worked with Openscapes since 2021, initially through a CS&S Event Fund grant (for the Openscapes event series where Ileana first participated!). We are learning valuable coaching skills - how to ask open-ended questions, how to listen - that make us better equipped as mentors, teachers, and leaders. When listening as a coach, we’re trying to help the other person define their problem and find their solution, outside of our expertise. This is different from mentoring, when we do have an answer within our expertise. Developing these coach listening skills, what questions to ask, and when to use mentoring vs coaching skills, is the focus of our sessions; we are practicing coaching skills together to tackle common challenges and skill-build together.

Our mentor-coach sessions include the Pathways Mentors and are also cross-government, and include Openscapes mentors working within and across their own institutions.

Do you plan to hold this event again? Why/why not?

We do; Openscapes is committed to supporting this event annually. We have included this into a 3-year grant proposal with NOAA Fisheries and plan for this is to be a model we can grow, both in terms of longer term funded proposals and through supporting Mentors who can support these events in other places.

Are there any additional ways in which CS&S could have supported you in planning this event?

Perhaps shared resources like Zoom? We capped registration at 150 folks for the first session, and had to buy a Zoom large-event 1-month upgrade. We hadn’t budgeted for this and asked if the Event Fund could help; Openscapes ultimately paid for this and luckily had the budget to do so, but in the recent past this would not have been possible. 

What was your process for developing and implementing your code of conduct/guidelines for community participation?

The Openscapes Code of Conduct is heavily drawn from rOpenSci and Mozilla, who we greatly appreciate for their leadership in this area (see Mozilla’s inclusion repo). Additional resources influencing this document include RStudio, Open Post Academics, and the groups described in Open Software Means Kinder Science. Please also see the value and ethics statements from Ben Marwick’s lab as well as other inspiring examples from EpiEllie’s twitter thread and the Coop at Fred Hutch.

Our website served first as a place to advertise the event and for folks to register; we then continued adding information to it as we developed the Pathways program and added all resource links from the resources page. includes:

  • Video recordings
  • Live note docs
  • Resources mentioned in the calls

Please describe any approved changes to your budget.

Funds declined as honoraria were allocated to lead organizers Fenwick, Williams, and Davis

Did you administer the impact survey to your participants?

Yes, along with a short survey specific to our audience.

Any other comments/feedback?

Thank you to the Event Fund and CZI for making this possible! This was really joyful to design and lead. We’ve all learned a lot along the way – whether that is engagement and “examining the cracks”, to open facilitation strategies, using Slack and Google Drive, to the acronym PWI (predominantly white institutions). Further, the impact we’ve seen is really profound. Here are a few pieces of shared joy:


Feb 1 - after event 1 of 6

Another impact from Pathways!! Our Howard professor reached out saying she has a freshman biology student who is now interested in fisheries and asked about internships for this summer

A screenshot from a participant that says @Ileana Fenwick and @Alex Davis thanks for a great intro to open science! If you can sell me on wanting to mess with stats you know you did a phenomenal job (rolling-on-the-floor-laughing emoji) looking forward to the next session! Post has 2 red heart emojis and 1 face-holding-back-tears emoji
Screenshot of a participant’s unsolicited feedback

Feb 3 - A message about Pathways coworking

I desperately need to just sit down and tackle this daunting task so it was good accountability plus it gave me some possible alternatives that might be quicker!” I am so happy that coworking created space for this!!!

Parting thought

Our planning team meetings were very joyful! We had regular coworking meetings to get things done together. Here is a peek at our ongoing meeting doc:

A screenshot of the table of contents from a google sheet: there are over 20 dates from November 2022 through March 2023
Screenshot of our planning team’s coworking Google Doc