EastBay Today

Feature
Posted November 19, 2020

The Future of STEM

Cal State East Bay College of Science Dean Jason Singley believes all college students have what it takes to succeed. What they don't always have is the ability to attend school, participate in research projects, study, work multiple jobs, and many times provide for their families.

Thanks to a new use of a $1 million endowment from the Malavalli Foundation, upwards of a dozen College of Science students will be able to worry less about funding their education and more about completing their degree. 

"The new use of this gift is going to be transformative for the college," Singley said. "Many of our students struggle with financing their college education, particularly some of our local and BIPOC students. This gift helps us get to a new level in how we support our students." 

"We want to show [companies] that employees are right here in their backyard, and by investing in our local talent, they can attain the kind of diversity they are looking for."

The Malavalli Family Foundation, a family fund based in Los Altos, California, guided by the philanthropic and personal values of Kumar and Vijaya Malavalli, supports education, healthcare, arts and culture programs throughout the Bay Area and overseas. 

"We are honored to further support the students of Cal State East Bay in their pursuit of higher education," said Kumar Malavalli. "A large part of our mission is to create a brighter future for people of all ages and backgrounds, and we feel this gift will help students from our community become the next generation of great scientists and engineers in our region and beyond." 

Cal State East Bay President Leroy Morishita said he is grateful for the endowment's new direction and hopes it will help even more students fill the regional workforce. 

"Mr. Malavalli is an outstanding benefactor and supporter of our students and higher education in not only the Bay Area but in California and beyond," Morishita said. "We are grateful for his generous gift, which will help us further support our students as they become the innovators and changemakers our world needs."

Driving the Economy

In recent years, the College of Science has doubled in size, and many of its graduates have gone on to work at various major science and technology companies in the Bay Area. They fill a workforce need for well-trained and diverse employees already in the area and plan to stay. 

"As an institution, that's where we can be transformative," Singley said." We want to show [companies] that employees are right here in their backyard, and by investing in our local talent, they can attain the kind of diversity they are looking for. The students who excel in STEM are already here."

However, many times, those students struggle with financing their college. Ultimately, Singley said he hopes to offer 10-12 scholarships at $3,500 each. The college offers only a handful of scholarships that size, so he hopes having several that will cover about half of tuition will begin to close an equity divide he has observed over the years. 

"I've taught here for many years, and all of the students who come to us can be successful … but so many of them drop off because they are working too much and not able to spend enough time on their studies," he said. 

"If we can help our students earn their degree in the sciences, they'll have access to that economy, and it will be transformative to their lives."

Students applying for the funds will have to have attended Mt. Eden, Hayward or Tennyson high school or be a returning CSUEB student who previously graduated from one of those three high schools and participated in an African American or Latinx affinity group. They must be in good academic standing and enrolled in the College of Science, majoring in any of the following concentrations: biology, chemistry, engineering, computer science, physics or environmental science. 

"We hear a lot about the tech sector in the Bay Area, and it drives our economy, but a lot of our local students and students of color don't have access," Singley said. "If we can help our students earn their degree in the sciences, they'll have access to that economy, and it will be transformative to their lives." 

Part of that help comes from professors who can relate to some of the struggles faced by students of color. 

 A community created this summer called “BIPOC In STEM” provides a safe space for students of color to meet regularly with faculty and staff to share their experiences as minorities in the college and at the university. It is a small community space where they can express who they are, support each other, and build relationships with other people of color who share their academic interest and cultural or ethnic experiences.

In addition to the increased social and emotional support, Singley said the college is expanding its focus on supporting students who are new to STEM and recently introduced the STEM Lab, an expansion of the already successful Math lab program. The collaborative programs include peer learning assistants — students who have already been successful in the program — who then take classes with the students, help lead in the classroom, and are also available outside of class for tutoring sessions and office hours.

"Both of these look to provide additional support to students who are in their first math or science class," he said. "Science is not an easy major ... but what we know is that if students can get through those first few classes, they're more likely to complete their degree." 

Looking Ahead

This year, in addition to the new funding through the Malavalli gift, the College of Science is also researching best practices for providing more equitable opportunities for students. Through a program called STEM Vistas and under the guidance of Associate Dean Danica LeDuc, STEM Lab coordinator Michele de Coteau, Math Lab coordinator Alicia Still, interns Allison Pelland and Jose Canela will spend a year researching and developing a program and projects that support students of color. 

"This work is important … because equity and asset-based thinking do not belong in a particular college or segment of society, it is relevant to all disciplines and careers and something of which we all need to be mindful."

"It has been an absolute pleasure working with the STEM Vistas … they bring youthful energy and passion to their projects [and] they are deeply committed to making higher education more equitable," LeDuc said. 

With their help, the college can move beyond the logistics of running the Math and STEM labs to focusing on implementing programs supporting pedagogical change and providing additional academic support. 

"With the Vistas help, we can be more intentional about making sure that these changes are also equitable and asset-based," she said. "Their learning, research and collaborations will build upon the structures we already have in place. This work is important … because equity and asset-based thinking do not belong in a particular college or segment of society, it is relevant to all disciplines and careers and something of which we all need to be mindful."  

Also new this year is a partnership between the Alumni Association and the College of Science to create networking opportunities between students of color majoring in STEM and alumni of color who majored in and now work in STEM fields. 

Its goals? 

To increase freshman and sophomore BIPOC retention in STEM majors, connect students with alumni, and to encourage more students of color to explore and pursue STEM careers. 

To date, the program has hosted three virtual web panels and discussions, which each drew several dozen participants. 

Thanks to philanthropists' efforts such as the Malavalli Foundation, partners within the university community, and the support of faculty and alumni, the College of Science is better prepared to support its students. 

"The more ways we can integrate these ways of thinking into the context of our disciplines, the more successful we are likely to be in supporting all our students to reach their potentials," LeDuc said. 

And alongside that potential, a sense of empowerment. 

"We're here to elevate and empower our students," Singley said. "They come here with a mission in mind, and our job is to lift them up and help them be successful." 


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