The University of California, Irvine has a rich history of providing outstanding educational opportunities to students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Education named UCI a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

The HSI designation requires that the institution have at least 25 percent Hispanic full-time equivalent enrollment with at least 50 percent of Hispanic students who qualify as low income. Hispanic-Serving Institutions evolved in the 1980s to draw attention to colleges and universities that supported large numbers of Hispanic students, with the goal of increasing evidence-based support to increase their success. By improving the quality of the undergraduate experience, the HSI initiative expects to produce a more qualified and diverse STEM workforce.

UCI is only the second member of the prestigious Association of American Universities – which includes the country’s leading research institutions – to have HSI status. Michael Dennin, Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning (OVPTL), responded to UCI’s new HSI status by bringing together campus experts to apply for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The objective was to sponsor a conference for the campus to explore ways to increase the number of  Hispanic and low income students attaining highly valued degrees in STEM fields. The grant co-researchers included Douglas Haynes, Vice Provost for Academic Equity, Diversity & Inclusion; Di Xu, Assistant Professor of Education; and Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio, Executive Director of the Center for Educational Partnerships

Dennin and his OVPTL team hosted the UCI HSI Conference, Pathways for Hispanics in STEM. The three-day conference in January brought together faculty and administrators from HSI school districts, community colleges, and four-year universities in Southern California to share best practices for STEM pathways.  

The conference aimed to identify and describe challenges facing Hispanic students who intend to pursue STEM degrees. Attendees discussed the most current research on retention of Hispanic students in STEM disciplines. The conference also aimed to generate recommendations for designing an HSI program at the National Science Foundation.

Adds Reyes-Tuccio “This has been a unique convening in that it brings together a range of stakeholders.from different parts of campus, including grant writers, researchers, faculty members, and people who are new to the conversation. And it’s generating some really interesting dialogue that will serve the campus and the students well.”

Speakers included:

Jo Handelsman, Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, talked about how academic systems are still rigged against minority groups of all types—women, ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students. She suggested that institutions need to acknowledge and resist systemic bias against those who do not fit stereotypes of scientists.

Vincent Tinto, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University, shared that in order to understand student motivation and the experiences that shape it, the university has to see the world through the eyes of students, hear their voices, and learn from their insights.

Laura I. Rendón, Professor of Higher Education in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas-San Antonio gave a presentation that dispelled the notion that perseverance alone accounts for success.

Helen Quinn, Professor Emerita in Particle Physics, Stanford University, shared information about California’s adoption of new science standards that stress inclusion of all students in a rigorous sequence of science classes from kindergarten through high school.

Julie A. Garcia, Associate Chair and Professor, Department of Psychology and Child Development, Office of University Diversity and Inclusion (OUDI) at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,  spoke about how perceptions of instructors’ theories of intelligence shape minorities’ STEM experiences.

Deborah A. Santiago, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Policy, Excelencia in Education, shared characteristics of evidence-based practices serving Latinos in STEM as well as the STEM workforce to inform the discussion on what can be done to address barriers and increase opportunities for Latino student success.

Di Xu, Assistant Professor of Education, UC Irvine, discussed a study that examined the impact of a year-long STEM cohort program designed to increase the academic performance and sense of belonging of less-prepared Bio Sci majors.

Niu Gau, Research Fellow of the Public Policy Institute, summarized research on the limitations of current California high school graduation requirements in science, which mean many students are less prepared for STEM subjects.

Using the conference hashtag #STEMinUCI, attendees expanded the conversation outside of the hotel ballroom. Amy Holte sums up her experience in a tweet:

On the final day of the conference, the National Science Foundation offered a free grant writing workshop for faculty, postdocs, and grant administrators from post-secondary institutions. The purpose was to familiarize prospective PIs with NSF’s process for proposal submission, review, and grant management.

The link to the video can be viewed here:

To learn more about the how the OVPTL is helping to create STEM pathways for students, visit