UC Berkeley News
Today's news & events
News by email
For the news media
Calendar of events
Top stories
Untitled Document
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

$5.6 million grant boosts UC Berkeley diversity program for undergraduate science students

– A $5.6 million grant to the Biology Scholars Program at the University of California, Berkeley, will increase the number of UC Berkeley students from underserved communities who are admitted to medical schools and graduate science programs throughout the country.

The five-year grant from the San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was announced today (Tuesday, Nov. 9).

"This generous grant is going to pay dividends not only for our students but also for the well-being of the communities they will serve when they complete their studies. We could not be more grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation or more proud of the success of the Biology Scholars Program," said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau.

The Biology Scholars Program was established on campus in 1992 to help undergraduate students from diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds succeed in the biological sciences. Over 800 students have graduated from the program, and 450 are currently enrolled.

The grant is part of the foundation's focus on giving money to higher education mentoring programs for underrepresented students, particularly those in the math, science and technology fields.

"This is about providing students with the resources and a structured developmental approach. This is not about hand-holding," Biology Scholars Program Director John Matsui said. "We help them level the playing field."

Matsui described the 12-year old program as "wildly successful," noting that participants - 75 percent of whom come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds - graduate with a biology degree at the same rate and with equivalent UC Berkeley grade point averages as Asian and white students who are not in the program. Minority students in the program are one-and-a-half times more likely to graduate with a biology degree than are minority students who do not participate in the program.

The grant, developed by Biology Scholars Program Assistant Director Dr. Roger Liu, Program Assistant Marco Angulo and Matsui, has three specific goals:

* Providing additional mentoring and academic resources each year to 100 students seeking a science degree

* Providing 60 pre-med students each year with mentoring, medical internships, and financial assistance to attend conferences and pay for medical school applications and review courses

* Sharing the UC Berkeley Biology Scholars Program model with 40 to 50 four-year colleges and universities in the state, resulting in the creation of at least 10 similar programs

The grant will enable Biology Scholars Program members from underserved communities - such as ethnic minorities, lower income students or those who are the first in their families to attend college - to become competitively qualified for admission into medical schools and graduate programs that lead to science careers.

Ricardo Gomez, a 2001 graduate of UC Berkeley, said the program helped him prepare for his work today as a medical student at UCLA/Drew, a joint training program between UCLA and Drew University in which students commit to serving disadvantaged populations.

"A lot of times when you come to a big institution, they just throw you to the wolves and you need to fend for yourself. If you have something as simple as a set study group, it's structure you don't even know about," said Gomez, who was raised in a small town in the Central Valley. "Once you have that structure, it's hard to imagine success without it."

Currently, African American, Hispanic and American Indian health care workers collectively make up only 9 percent of nurses, 6 percent of doctors and 5 percent of dentists in this country.

"There is a huge underrepresentation problem here," Matsui said. "And there is particular demand for health care professionals from underrepresented and underserved populations."

UC Berkeley College of Letters & Science Dean Geoffery Owen said the program fulfills the mission of the University of California as a public institution to serve all people in the state.

"The program's unique combination of academic excellence and ethnic and cultural diversity provides a model for what higher education in California can become," Owen said.

Gomez said he wants to work with migrant workers in his hometown region.

"My grandmother who raised me said, 'You can work with your back or your mind. I want you to work with your mind,'" Gomez said. "She didn't really understand the education system, but she knew education was the way to go."

"It's critical that future physicians reflect and appreciate the diversity of our communities and understand the cultural differences and norms of underrepresented communities," said Dr. Tomás Magaña, who works at Children's Hospital and Research Center at Oakland. Magaña will be one of the two physicians providing mentoring to UC Berkeley pre-med students under the grant.

"There are many complex reasons why individuals won't seek health care services, and many are related to cultural issues," Magaña said. "If our future physicians can effectively understand and address these issues, patients will more likely get regular health care and have better health outcomes."

The Biology Scholars Program was started with funds from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) under the direction of Matsui; Corey Goodman, formerly a UC Berkeley professor of neurobiology and an HHMI investigator; and Caroline Kane, UC Berkeley professor in residence of biochemistry and molecular biology. The program is in its twelfth year of HHMI funding.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in September 2000 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty. The foundation funds outcome-based grants and initiatives to achieve significant and measurable results. The foundation's principal areas of concern are environmental conservation, science, higher education and the San Francisco Bay Area.