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08/07/2008 07:00:00

Caltech Seeks to Diversify Higher Education

PASADENA, Calif.--The California Institute of Technology recently announced new awardees for three long-standing programs aimed at increasing diversity in science, engineering, and technology fields. The programs include the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF); MURF, a summer fellowship for undergraduates around the country to conduct research at Caltech; and the Young Engineering and Science Scholars (YESS). Caltech recently selected the awardees for each of these programs.

Eva Graham, director of the Office of Minority Student Education, says these programs are intended to promote inclusion and to support access to careers in academia. Caltech encourages all students who feel that they might benefit from these programs to apply.

Graham notes, "Caltech is in a unique position to help underrepresented students succeed and attain academic and professional success. Our programs give them unparalleled access to preeminent faculty and to the most advanced scientific technology, engineering equipment, and facilities available."

Since 1996, MMUF has assisted underrepresented undergraduates at Caltech. Four new awardees were chosen this year, bringing the total number of Caltech students aided by MMUF to 42 since the Institute joined the program.

The selected students will receive financial and academic support. They will receive up to $6,000 during the summer for research and travel, up to $10,000 in loan relief, mentoring sessions, and assistance in applying to graduate schools.

The new MMUF scholars are junior biology major Helen Bermudez, junior chemistry major Dana Levine, junior applied physics major Philip Munoz, and junior electrical engineering major Manuel Ochoa. Current Mellon Scholars at Caltech include senior physics majors Lauren Porter and Chris Moody, junior geology major Marie Giron, and junior mathematics and computer science major Mason Smith.

Another program, MURF, is an undergraduate research project that provides aid for gifted students to spend a summer working in a research laboratory at Caltech. MURF is aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented students in science and engineering graduate programs, as well as making Caltech's programs more visible to students not traditionally exposed to Caltech. This year 29 students are participating in the MURF program.

Another continuing program that Caltech initiated is the Young Engineering and Science Scholars (YESS) program aimed at encouraging and recruiting high-school students, primarily juniors and seniors, into the sciences. YESS is designed to expose students to the excitement and rigor of scientific research. The program involves taking two research-oriented courses led by Caltech graduate students. Each course involves lectures, hands-on experiments, project work, research presentations, and lab tours. By giving students the opportunity to interact with others from across the country, the program also seeks to create a community of scholars. Many top students from the YESS program have applied to and attended very competitive colleges and universities, including Caltech, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford. The program is free to all those who participate, and includes living expenses. This summer, 29 students participated in the YESS program.

Additionally, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is a society that was reactivated on campus during the 2007-08 academic year. Founded in 1971, NSBE strives to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. With more than 24,000 members, it is the largest student-managed organization in the country.

Graham, in her first year at the Institute, has many ambitions for the Institute, one of which is to increase diversity. "We recognize that there is a challenge ahead of us in increasing diversity," Graham says. "But there is also a great opportunity, and we are committed to continuing to implement proactive programs to address this need."

These programs at Caltech are intended to not only create a diversity of scientists at the Institute, but also to bring about diversity throughout the fields of science and engineering across the nation. Graham says, "Achieving diversity in the scientific and academic communities on all levels is critical to the well-being of our society. Diversity will help unveil the talents that all have to offer, and will advance our nation as a whole."

Written by Jacqueline Scahill