Fresno State, UC Merced partner to increase diversity in STEM faculty

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Fresno State, UC Merced partner to increase diversity in STEM faculty

Fresno State and University of California, Merced are teaming up over the next five years to train and mentor underrepresented minority doctoral students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to teach at colleges and universities.

The partnership expands efforts by science, engineering and graduate studies departments from both universities to find more opportunities to work together. Joint projects have included a national initiative with the National Science Foundation to broaden STEM participation and the local Bridges to the Doctorate program that supports Fresno State students transitioning to Ph.D. programs at UC Merced.

“Increased interactions between our campuses will lead to more collaborations and resources for students in the Central Valley,” said Dr. Christopher Meyer, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Fresno State.

In this new program, Fresno State and UC Merced will collaborate with California State University, Channel Islands and University of California, Santa Barbara to create and test a model that will increase cultural, ethnic and gender diversity among STEM faculty. All four universities are Hispanic-Serving Institutions where at least 25 percent of the undergraduate enrollment is Hispanic.

At Fresno State, almost half of the students are Hispanic, but faculty demographics don’t mirror that. The goal is not necessarily to match the demographics, said Dr. James Marshall, dean of Research and Graduate Studies, but there is a need to increase the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of faculty to better represent the student population.

“Having diverse role models is, in our view, a very positive thing. It better prepares our students for life in a diverse local or global community,” Marshall said.

NSF, through its Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, awarded the group $2.1 million to fund the project and a research component. Fresno State received $134,015.

Starting in summer 2019, doctoral students identified by the University of California schools — five from UC Merced — will meet in Santa Barbara for a workshop on how to teach. That fall, the doctoral students will be paired with CSU faculty members in their disciplines to co-teach classes on those campuses. The program will include doctoral students in social sciences, linguistics and psychology in addition to science, technology, engineering and math.

“The opportunities that we can provide to these future faculty members in teaching courses incorporating Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) will have a very positive impact on our mission to support learning by doing and the integration of teaching and research,” Meyer said. “It’s definitely a win-win for the students, graduate students and both institutions.”

The UC schools will study the psychology behind what drives young doctoral candidates to make their career decisions such as attending teaching intensive schools compared to research-heavy institutions.

The science foundation hopes the program will find a successful model that can be replicated in other universities nationwide. Fresno State hopes the program will inspire the future Ph.D. graduates to stay and teach.

“This gives us access, first dibs, on recruiting some really top notch Ph.D.’s in STEM fields from diverse backgrounds,” Marshall said. “They may not choose to come but at least we’ll know them. We’ll give them experience and time here on our campus getting to know our faculty. That’s a positive pipeline for attracting new faculty to campus.”