Congresswoman tours campus research facilities

Alvin Wu/Staff

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Rep. Barbara Lee visited three research facilities Wednesday at UC Berkeley, her alma mater, to learn about advanced manufacturing and innovation on campus, which may receive additional federal funding under legislation she co-sponsored.

Laboratory managers showed Lee recent projects such as 3-D printing, laser cutting and nanofabrication. Though impressed, she was concerned about the lack of diversity in campus science programs. Since attending UC Berkeley for her master’s degree 39 years ago, she said, the percentage of underrepresented minority students on campus has fallen.

“It’s very important that black and Latino kids are able to participate as interns and attend these programs,” Lee said. “Because of government cutbacks, these resources aren’t at most public schools.”

Lee toured the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society Invention Lab and Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory, as well as the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability.

Jennifer Mangold, a postdoctoral researcher at the manufacturing and sustainability lab who spoke with Lee on the tour, said she has seen the lack of diversity in engineering fields since she started studying mechanical engineering in 1999. Still, she said, the “tides are starting to turn.” Mangold added that reaching out to K-12 students from underrepresented backgrounds to increase awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs would boost diversity in those fields.

Lee said increased funding would allow more children to be able to participate in STEM fields.

Mary Beth Kery, a Wellesley College junior conducting research at CITRIS as part of the National Science Foundation’s summer program, said she was pleased Lee was taking steps to make programs like hers more available to students at universities without research facilities like UC Berkeley’s.

David Dornfeld, director of the manufacturing and sustainability lab and department of mechanical engineering chair, said UC Berkeley science departments have made progress in increasing the number of women and minority students in their programs at the graduate level. More than half of his lab is composed of women and students from minority backgrounds.

But undergraduate programs, he said, are “still a struggle.” Dornfeld said he is working to increase underrepresented minority and female faculty, which he hopes will have an impact on students and create a more diverse program.

Contact Anna Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @annajxli.