UC chemistry departments gather at UCSC to discuss DEI issues

Seth Rubin
Alegra Eroy-Reveles
Rigoberto Hernandez

The UCSC Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry organized the first UC-wide conference on diversity, equity, and inclusion in chemistry, held April 15 at UCSC. The meeting brought together chemistry faculty and students from across the UC system to discuss challenges and share ideas.

“When our department’s DEI committee meets to discuss these issues, we wonder what other UC campuses are doing. We all face similar challenges, and we thought it would be helpful to get together and share ideas,” said Seth Rubin, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who spearheaded the organization of the conference.

“Everyone belongs in STEM, and we know that building community is a powerful mechanism for creating that sense of belonging,” he said. “This is an important step toward increasing diversity and equity, and we hope this will be a regular gathering in the years to come.”

UCSC Chancellor Cindy Larive gave opening remarks at the conference, noting that there were not many women or people of color in the field of chemistry when she entered it in the 1970s.

“Diversity is something we have to be really intentional about, and there is so much power in what we can do to advance diversity and inclusion by working across all the UC campuses,” she said.

The event was organized around three themes: graduate student inclusion and recruitment; graduate student mentoring and success; and faculty recruitment and retention.

Rigoberto Hernandez, professor of chemistry at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE), gave a keynote address in which he discussed OXIDE’s work tracking the demographics of U.S. chemistry faculty and identifying barriers faced by underrepresented groups. He has helped organize National Diversity Equity Workshops to engage with department chairs and develop recommendations for achieving inclusive excellence.

“We continue to have increasing participation in these workshops. The community sees value in the networking and community engagement, and we are beginning to see an uptick in the hiring of faculty from diverse groups,” Hernandez said.

Alegra Eroy-Reveles, associate teaching professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC, discussed ideas for designing a more equitable hiring process for faculty. A graduate of Watsonville High School who earned her Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz, Eroy-Reveles talked about the changing demographics of high school graduates in California and how important it is for the UC faculty to reflect those changes. She is working with colleagues at other UC campuses as a co-principal investigator of a project funded by the National Science Foundation with the goal of increasing the number of Latinx teaching-focused STEM faculty.

Eroy-Reveles said many students have told her she was the first Latinx science teacher they’d had. “This is why I’m here—it is so important for students to see people like them in the faculty,” she said.

A session on graduate student climate, mentoring, and support included a plenary talk by Joerg Schlatterer, who discussed his work at the American Chemical Society (ACS) on the ACS Bridge Program, an effort to increase the number of underrepresented students earning doctoral degrees in the chemical sciences. The ACS is one of five leading scientific societies that have formed the Inclusive Graduate Education Network (IGEN) to increase the participation of women and underrepresented groups in graduate studies in the physical sciences.

Rubin said the conference was a valuable opportunity to hear about efforts at other institutions as UCSC’s chemistry department continues to make changes to address challenges in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We have implemented changes to try to close equity gaps in the classroom, restructuring the general chemistry curriculum and introducing new teaching practices and undergraduate research labs that we think will help increase persistence in STEM, especially for underrepresented students,” Rubin said. “We are also taking steps to improve the faculty hiring process and increase the diversity of the applicant pool. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but there is a lot more work to do.”