Robert Kennedy said that “America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity.” To close your eyes to the intolerance growing in America today is nearly impossible. So the choice becomes whether to stand in opposition to that intolerance.

Some would argue that it is the duty of the educational system to safeguard society against such intolerance. Now more than ever, diversity and inclusivity in our educational institutions become our nation’s greatest assets in the fight against intolerance and inequality.

To further the fight against inequality, UC Irvine was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help Hispanic students. The NSF wants to know how to help students overcome class and racial obstacles to achieve real upward social mobility through a successful STEM career.

The NSF grant of $99,984 will be used to fund a conference. The conference will be focussed on helping Hispanic students not only enroll, but finish earning their degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Hispanic people aged 18-24 represent the second-largest demographic group in the US at 20%, but earn only 10% of the science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, and only 6% of the doctoral degrees according to NSF figures,” said Michael Dennin.

The New York Times ranks UCI first among America’s colleges for low-income students. UCI credits the ranking to a dedication to serving underrepresented students, embracing student diversity and making college accessible. Nevertheless, Hispanic students still experience significant obstacles in completing their university education.

While some statistics indicate improvements to the six-year graduation rate for Hispanic students, rising to 82%, there remains a 15% gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students in their four-year graduation rates.

“UCI is uniquely poised to support Hispanic students interested in STEM fields,” says Enrique Lavernia, Provost, and Executive Vice Chancellor. “With our vigorous academics, world-class research and dedicated faculty, we are committed to supporting student success.”

UCI was awarded the NSF grant due in large part to its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The designation builds on UCI’s existing status as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution (AANAPISI). As an HSI and AANAPISI institution, UCI is eligible for funding and grants to help support these students.

The award and conference will be under the direction of our own Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Michael B. Dennin along with Assistant Professor of Education Di Xu and Vice Provost for Academic Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Douglas M. Haynes.

“Serving underrepresented students is a core part of UCI’s mission and vision,” said Michael Dennin. Creating this HSI Conference will bring together educational leaders to support the NSF’s research on improving STEM pathways for Hispanic students.”

Currently, out of the total students who begin with a major in Biological Sciences, 42% of non-Hispanic students graduate as BioSci, but only 24% of Hispanic students do. Similarly, there is an 11% difference in Engineering and a 10% difference in Physical Science in their 4-year graduation rates. It is this remaining gap which fuels UCI’s dedication to collaboration with other campuses across Southern California to improve undergraduate STEM education.

“UCI seeks to create a culture of inclusive excellence in which all expect equity, support diversity and practice inclusion,” said Douglas M. Haynes. “This conference is a great example of our commitment to our students and the community.”

The conference attendees will develop recommendations for supporting students from K-12 and community college to successfully transition and graduate college with majors in science, technology, engineering, and math. The NSF funds will help educational leaders around Southern California attend the conference.

In the words of David Bois, UCI challenges its students and staff to “Embrace a diversity of ideas. Embrace the fact that you can disagree with people and not be disagreeable. Embrace the fact that you can find common ground. If you can find common ground, you can accomplish great things.”

To learn more about all the great things UCI is doing, check out our YouTube channel “Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning.”

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