December 3, 2020
Second round of funding from Google supports Central Valley students: ¡Valle! tech training addresses the whole person, increases access to careers
By Leigh Bernacchi, CITRIS UC Merced
When did you decide what you wanted to be when you grow up?
For many talented women, visions of lab coats and microscopes disappear around middle school. It’s a national issue: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the STEM fields —comprise proportions of women and people of color far lower than the population at large. At UC Merced, women make up 51 percent of the student body, but 40 percent of STEM students, and of that, only 20 percent are School of Engineering majors.
¡Valle!, now in its second year, helps Central Valley students stay in STEM studies and access opportunities. The program is open to undergraduates in STEM across the Central Valley, including community colleges, CSUs and UC, and the deadline to apply has been extended to Dec. 20.
Google Research exploreCSR (computer science research) is supporting ¡Valle! as one of many programs, spanning 59 institutions. In 2020, exploreCSR and programs like Valle served 2,400 students. This year, UCM will serve over 30 and coordinate with the larger network on research and program design, sharing what we find across the country.
Led by Professor Erin Hestir, associate director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), the tech career-training program aims to increase access for underrepresented students — access to graduate school and research, to a network of peers and mentors and to lucrative, rewarding careers in a burgeoning field.
“Mentorship is such an important piece of the professional success puzzle. And yet, mentoring is not available to everyone, including some of our best and brightest women and students of color,” Hestir said. “Expanding access to mentorship for the next generation of ‘STEMinists’ is the future of innovation and the future of our country.”
Hestir works with Professor Kathy Kanemoto, who pioneered the computer science department at Merced College, leading to drone training, a new major, and many inspired and supported students transferring to four-year colleges.
“In order to move the needle in broadening participation in computer science we need to get students involved in research,” Kanemoto said. “Many of our students have never been exposed to research and Valle has opened up that pathway for them.” Kanemoto also leads regional components of CAHSI, the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
Research shows women leave STEM for myriad reasons. Topics from personal confidence and tech skills to presenting their best selves in application materials and networking are all part of the weekly workshop supported by Google Research and CITRIS.
Designed for STEM majors and encouraging of women, people of color and first- and second-year students, ¡Valle! is more than a professional development program. Expenses are covered and at the end of the workshop, students will have personal and interpersonal skills and resources to take their next steps. Working with faculty, mentors and graduate students, participants will build a network of fellow tech-savvy students and practice skills that will lead to access, confidence and opportunities in STEM careers.
CITRIS, an institute of science and innovation at four UC campuses, has a clear initiative for women in technology geared to improve the lives of not only women in STEM but anyone who engages with technology.
“A more diverse tech workforce creates more compassionate and empathetic products,” said Jill Finlayson, director of the Women in Tech program, which addresses the inclusion needs of women from middle school students to CEOs of tech corporations.
Finlayson points out that undergraduate opportunities come at a critical time.
"¡Valle! demystifies the pathways to Ph.D.s and jobs in tech with practical guidance, peer feedback, networking practice, and inspiration from a diverse leaders who have pursued their passion for STEM and academic careers. Role models, especially for women of color, are invaluable as they share their lived experiences and what has worked for them to persist and thrive in tech."