The Cal-Bridge program, which supports underrepresented college students at California State University campuses to pursue Ph.D. degrees through the University of California (UC) system, has been allocated $5 million in the 2022-23 state budget.
The new California state budget allocation will enable Cal-Bridge to expand the subject areas covered and extend its impact, supporting the scholars all the way from their CSU undergraduate studies through their UC doctoral programs, building a pathway for thousands of California students from diverse backgrounds to develop the expertise needed to fill university faculty and technology leadership positions in California and beyond.
Launched in 2014 with five scholars, the Cal-Bridge program provides financial support, extensive mentoring, research opportunities and professional development workshops to students from historically underrepresented groups who are majoring in physics, astronomy, computer science, computer engineering or mathematics.
Cal-Bridge scholar Sierra Garza (’20, physics) is in the third year of a Ph.D. in physics with an astrophysics emphasis at UC Santa Barbara.
“The tours at each UC campus definitely fueled an excitement for the possibility of graduate school and the cutting edge of science in general,” Garza said. “The [program’s] emphasis on community … improved my college experience and helped me build a network of peers and future colleagues. The program helped me gain knowledge about what it takes to earn a Ph.D. and the confidence/skills to be successful in pursuing such a degree.”
Cal-Bridge currently has 96 undergraduates, 20 master’s students and 77 Ph.D. students. Two alumni have earned doctoral degrees, and 20 have completed their master of science degrees. With the new funding, the program aims to grow to over 100 CSU undergraduates per year going on for STEM Ph.D.s.
Evan Nuñez (’19, physics) just completed his third year in the astronomy Ph.D. program at Caltech and plans to become an astrophysics professor at a CSU or UC campus. He cited his mentors, Matthew Povich, Cal Poly Pomona associate professor of physics and astronomy, and Tommaso Treu, UCLA professor of physics, for their encouragement and keeping him on track.
Alexander Rudolph, professor of physics and astronomy at Cal Poly Pomona and founding Cal-Bridge executive director, has been instrumental in building the program.
“Diversifying the professoriate will lead to growth in gender, racial, and ethnic representation in the technology workforce more broadly by increasing the number of students from historically underrepresented groups completing degrees in STEM fields because they see faculty that look like them,” Rudolph said.
“As countries around the world are increasing their investment in science and technology, making sure our nation uses all of the available talent in developing our expertise and capabilities in these fields is an issue of economic and national security,” he continued.
Cal-Bridge participating institutions include 23 California State University institutions, 9 University of California campuses and all 116 of the state’s community colleges.
“I’m so proud to have secured $5 million in the California State budget for the Cal-Bridge program to diversify the State’s science and technology workforce,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine), who was the chief sponsor of the effort to win funding for the initiative in the state budget. “Breaking down barriers to entry into STEM fields for historically underrepresented groups and diversifying California’s public university professoriate will help California continue to thrive as a world-class hub for innovation.”
Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), chair of the Assembly Budget Committee and Nancy Skinner (D-East Bay), chair of the Senate Budget Committee helped shepherd the appropriation into the state budget. Ting commented, “Cal-Bridge is a uniquely Californian treasure, ensuring fair and equal access to all the opportunities offered by our state’s outstanding higher education system. Cal-Bridge opens doors for all in our state to the most exciting and well-paid careers in science and technology, regardless of where they start their education. I’m excited to support Cal-Bridge, to see it funded in this year’s budget and look forward to watching it grow to benefit thousands of Californians over the coming years.”
Skinner added, “California has made progress in diversifying our public colleges and universities, but there is still much work to do. Black and Latinx students, in particular, remain underrepresented at our CSU and UC campuses. The Cal-Bridge program is essential to closing this racial gap, which is why I’m proud the Legislature and Governor have agreed to fund it in this year’s state budget. Cal-Bridge not only is effective at attracting underrepresented students to STEM fields, but also in ensuring that our cohort of future college professors in physics, computer science, and mathematics is diverse as well.”