4 California schools bring diversity to science, engineering Ph.Ds

Four schools produce almost 10 percent of the nation's underrepresented minority Ph. Ds in science and engineering.
February 14, 2014 5:50:28 PM PST
The California Alliance is made up of four schools, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology. Together, they produce almost 10 percent of the nation's underrepresented minority Ph. Ds in science and engineering.

Anastasia Chavez is a Ph.D student in the math department at U.C. Berkeley. One of her requirements is to educate undergraduates. She gets a variety of responses when she enters a classroom for the first time.

"One is an audible gasp when I walk into the room. They're expecting, you know, a man; they're expecting an international student," said Chavez.

In California, more than 52 percent of the state's public school students look like Chavez. But very few make it to her level.

"We don't have anything like that percentage of those students as undergraduates in our institutions, much less as professors and graduate students," said Mark Richards of the U.C. Berkeley College of Letters and Science.

The four universities have come together to change that.

In 2011, of the 753 doctoral degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math at those four universities, only 59 went to underrepresented minority students.

The people behind the new alliance believe diversity can only benefit the institutions.

"People bring different experiences; people bring different approaches to problems, scientific or otherwise. And there is research showing that when you bring diverse groups of people together, there's more creative solutions," said Rudy Mendoza of the U.C. Berkeley Department of Psychology.

To guarantee the alliance is successful, the national science foundation has given them a $2.2 million grant.

The other goal is to help their Ph.D students conduct more research or become faculty members at any of the four universities.

"So that power of four, very highly recognized institutions all paying attention to your application at one time, that's very powerful medicine," said Richards.

The California Alliance believes underrepresented minority students would benefit from having professors that look like them.

"Students that come to me and say, 'You're the only person I can tell this to because I have not come across anybody who is a woman, who is a minority, who would understand,'" said Chavez.

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