Underrepresented students pursuing an education in physics or astronomy will soon have an easier time navigating their way to a doctorate with the help of a new Cal Poly Pomona program set to debut this fall.
Cal-Bridge, as the program is called, is a consortium of CSU schools, UC campuses and community colleges in the Southern California region that are working toward the common goal of increasing “the number of underrepresented minorities (URM), especially Hispanics, and women completing bachelors and PhD degrees in astronomy, physics, or closely related STEM fields.”
According to program literature, Hispanic, black and Native Americans are 27 percent of the U.S. population, but make up less than 4 percent of those earning physics and astronomy PhDs.
Alexander Rudolph, the professor of physics and astronomy who has led the development of Cal-Bridge, says minority students are “so badly underrepresented in physics it’s shameful.”
“There’s some problem. We’re not doing a good enough job,” Rudolph says. “I think that, as a society, creating equal opportunity for all people is important as a principle.”
“We think there are students who are qualified to go on and get PhDs, but there are certain barriers that exist.”
Rudolph says Cal-Bridge is an outgrowth of another campus program, the California-Arizona Minority Partnership for Astronomy Research and Education (CAMPARE), which he founded and directs.
For five years, CAMPARE has been providing research opportunities and mentoring to astronomy students, especially those who are from underrepresented minorities.
“I saw the CAMPARE program was a very successful model, and I felt that we were doing a lot to prepare the students, but we thought a more formal program would be even better,” Rudolph says.
As a model, he looked to the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program, which links students from Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, with PhD advisers and faculty from Vanderbilt University.
Cal-Bridge will do the same, connecting undergraduate physics and astronomy students with faculty advisers in graduate physics and astronomy programs. The students will receive mentoring and encouragement while being exposed to graduate research opportunities.
But Cal-Bridge will be considerable larger in scope than the Fisk-Vanderbilt program, encompassing five UC campuses, eight CSU campuses, and seven community colleges, all in the Southern California region, and with a new grant for $600,000 from the National Science Foundation, it is funded for the next five years.
Rudolph says the program will select its first cohort of students this fall. For more information, visit https://physics.cpp.edu/academic-programs/astronomy-program/research/calbridge-overview.