Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to award UC Berkeley more than $6.9M to support underrepresented STEM students

Pie chart showing racial distribution of STEM workers in the US
Elizabeth Byrne/Staff

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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, or CZI, announced Tuesday that it will award more than $6.9 million to fund programs at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego supporting underrepresented students in STEM fields.

Although STEM employment in the United States has grown by 79 percent in less than 30 years, Black and Latinx workers are still underrepresented, according to a press release from CZI. Sixty-nine percent of STEM workers in the United States are white — in comparison, Black and Latinx workers represent 9 and 7 percent of the STEM worker population, respectively, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.

The key to accelerating discoveries in science or the next tech breakthrough will be dependent on our ability to bring fresh perspectives to STEM fields,” said CZI co-founder Priscilla Chan in the press release.

The program will be modeled after the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which has been widely hailed as one of the most effective models for promoting the success of underrepresented students in STEM.

Founded in 2015 by Chan and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, CZI funds programs focusing on science, education, infrastructure and justice.

Current enrollment numbers excluded, participants in the Meyerhoff program have earned 300 doctoral degrees, 130 medical degrees, 54 medical/doctoral degrees and 253 master’s degrees, according to the press release.

Before coming to the West Coast, the program was also replicated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State University, according to Michael Botchan, the UC Berkeley dean of the Division of Biological Sciences. He added that the program has had “tremendous success” at these other institutes.

UC Berkeley has previously been connected to CZI’s scientific endeavors through the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a biomedical research project that brings together the collaborative efforts of UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford University. Through the Biohub, 13 UC Berkeley faculty members have been awarded up to $1.5 million each in grants for biomedical research.

A team of UC Berkeley deans, including Botchan, Frances Hellman of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences in the College of Letters and Science, Douglas Clark of the College of Chemistry, Phil Kaminsky of the College of Engineering and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón, met to discuss bringing the Meyerhoff model to campus.

“Everybody was enthusiastic that we could have a Meyerhoff Scholars Program at Berkeley, in a Berkeley way,” Botchan said.

The UC Berkeley program will be dubbed the STEM Scholars Program and expects to serve between 100 and 120 students during the next five years, according to the press release.

Contact Marlena Tavernier-Fine at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MarlenaTF_DC.