Andrew Szeri
Andrew Szeri

Again, UC Berkeley is on the cutting edge of efforts to make academic careers more accessible and attractive to the increasingly diverse student populations of the state and the nation.

Our campus is leading three other West Coast universities in an unprecedented alliance to broaden the pipeline of Ph.D. students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and related disciplines) to fully include aspiring academics that have been historically underrepresented in these fields.

The new California Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate — funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation — includes Stanford, Caltech, and UCLA, along with Berkeley. Together these four confer nearly 10 percent of all STEM PhDs earned by underrepresented minorities in the U.S.

The challenge of producing scientists and engineers able to infuse academic excellence with a broad range of experiences and perspectives means ramping up inclusion of minority-group students at every step: from college and graduate school to postdoc training and faculty careers.

Key to success? “A sense of community and belonging are important aspects of any academic endeavor,” according to Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Professor of Psychology, who is research director for the Alliance’s data collection and analysis. “Mentorship and feeling support from one’s mentors are important predictors of a student’s success and choice of profession. If all the professors that you interact with on a daily basis don’t look like you or can’t relate to you, it’s a cycle that feeds on itself. If students don’t see themselves represented on university faculties or in national labs, they can feel their place isn’t there, that they’d be swimming upstream alone.”

The California Alliance aims to create a cross-institutional “community of practice” that will bring together in select activities underrepresented doctoral students from all four universities who share educational backgrounds, ambitions, and similar types of Ph.D. preparation in closely-related disciplines. The project will include faculty training to better recognize and help these students thrive and advance, and include research on factors impacting attitudes, experiences, and preparation for the future.

As Mark Richards, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, put it: “The California Alliance institutions already are providing remarkable opportunities for graduate students. The issue is that we have to do something above and beyond what’s standard in graduate education to give all students a sense of belonging.”

At Berkeley, our commitment to supporting all graduate students “above and beyond” is expressed in many ways.  On April 15, we will recognize some of the faculty who are exceptional mentors at the annual Graduate Mentoring Awards ceremony.  Find out more here!

Andrew Szeri signature