UC Berkeley News


Conference points to new era in science diversity

| 20 October 2005

Berkeley's Biology Scholars Program (BSP) has been recognized as one of the most successful science-diversity programs in the country. To help others replicate that success on other California campuses, the program recently hosted the first of five conferences devoted to "The Science of Diversifying Science."

"What we have done is to close the minority performance gap," said BSP Director John Matsui during his opening remarks at Alumni House on Oct. 7. He cited data from 2003 showing that minority BSP members, despite having lower high-school GPAs and SAT scores than non-minority students, graduate in biology with statistically similar GPAs and at the same rate. "That is a remarkable feat at a place like Berkeley," he said.

Achieving the same results at other campuses will require major changes in the way programs are designed, implemented, and evaluated, Matsui said, noting that "diversity work today is using an eight-track-tape approach in an iPod era." Even BSP's published analysis is only the beginning, he said: "We still need to know what about BSP is working, and for whom."

Of BSP's 450 current students, 60 percent belong to underrepresented minority groups and 70 percent are women. The program provides a long list of services to its members, including study groups, paid research internships, and academic advising.

The conference's keynote speaker encouraged those starting new programs or looking to enhance existing ones to form partnerships that will help them determine which aspects of their programs work. "Take a social scientist to lunch," said Patricia Gándara, a professor of education at UC Davis who has studied diversity programs across the U.S. "The folks in science fundamentally do science. It's not their job to design the kind of rigorous evaluations we need to take the next very overdue step."

Gándara has shown in her research that most science-diversity programs don't evaluate aspects of their programs at all, and the few that do have not done so thoroughly. This results in the wasting of precious resources, she said: "We have got to get a lot smarter about which elements of science-diversity programs are absolutely critical if we want to use our funds in the most effective way possible."

Since its inception in 1992, BSP has been funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and housed within the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. The program was awarded a $5.6-million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in November to expand its staff and formalize a pathway within the program that serves students planning to go on to medical school. BSP's series of conferences is sponsored by the Moore Foundation.

For more information, visit biology.berkeley.edu.