Venture capitalists donate $5M to diversify STEM at UC Berkeley

Photo of Pimentel Hall
David McAllister/Staff
UC Berkeley received a $5 million donation from alumna Freada Kapor Klein and her husband, Mitch Kapor. The donation aims to diversify STEM by funding students to participate in campus's SEED Scholars Honors program, which supports minority students pursuing STEM majors.

Related Posts

UC Berkeley alumna Freada Kapor Klein, a venture capitalist and social policy researcher, and her husband Mitch Kapor, founder of computer software company Lotus, donated $5 million to improve campus’s diversity through the STEM Excellence through Equity and Diversity, or SEED, Scholars Honors program.

The SEED program gives minority students more opportunities in pursuing STEM majors through myriad resources, according to the SEED website. Campus’s SEED program was founded in 2019 as a facsimile of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Meyerhoff Scholars program.

“STEM students represent one-third of Berkeley’s undergraduate population,” said José Rodríguez, senior editorial director of campus’s University Development and Alumni Relations office, in an email. “BIPOC students, however, comprise just 10 percent of Cal students who major in a STEM field. And yet, 45 percent of California’s population is Latinx, African American, or Native American.”

The $5 million donation will fund up to 10 students every year for the entirety of the program’s four-year duration and provide financial support to roughly 50 students in five years, according to SEED Scholars Honors program director Ira Young.

The program has benefited 46 students since its establishment, according to Young.

SEED supplies students with educational sessions on topics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability to promote social justice within STEM. The program also provides priority class enrollment, faculty mentoring and research opportunities, according to the SEED website.

Young added that STEM disciplines lack women and underrepresented students, thus begetting limited peer networks and graduate student role models. The SEED program makes internships and workforce pathways more accessible to students who identify as BIPOC, according to Young.

The SEED program is open to all freshly matriculated students who graduated from the high school Summer Math and Science Honors, or SMASH, Academy, according to Rodríguez.

SEED emphasizes serving historically marginalized students and requires them to apply to at least four doctoral programs during their senior year on campus. The SEED program, Young said in an email, only allows students to major in STEM departments such as biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental sciences, mathematics and physics.

“Applicants from backgrounds who are educationally and economically under-resourced may be more likely to enter college with less preparation in foundational mathematics and science and limited access to rigorous STEM courses in high school,” Young said in the email.

Young added that SMASH can play a “key role” in helping students who identify as BIPOC.

Students from underrepresented backgrounds still bound hurdles even after admission. Young said STEM culture, unsupportive learning environments and a lack of diversity among faculty members can discourage minority students from STEM, effectively pushing them out of a variety of major programs.

“According to the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), only 10.1 percent of faculty nationwide identify as historically underrepresented,” Young said in the email. “Students are not seeing themselves reflected among faculty and graduate students. This may have a major impact on students of color’s sense of identity as scientists.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Meyerhoff Scholars program was founded at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. In fact, the program was founded at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.