To support Hispanic women in STEM, UC Santa Cruz hosts inaugural HSRU Alliance conference

Marcella Gomez and Cindy Larive smile at the conference
UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics Marcella Gomez present at the HSRU conference. (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)
Group of students and faculty discuss around a table.
A group of faculty and students engaged in discussion at the conference. (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)
Cecilia Aragon, director of the Human-Centered Data Science Lab at the University of Washington, gives her keynote adress. (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)
Convened by the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, an inaugural cohort from universities, government, foundations, and industry met at UC Santa Cruz from June 26-29 to discuss and develop a framework to support the advancement of Hispanic women in their academic and professional STEM careers.

The four-day conference brought together nearly 100 faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students from across the country and marked the first in-person gathering of the HSRU Alliance. 

“The people who attended the conference are resilient, tenacious, empathetic, and resourceful, and I’ve been so inspired to hear participants recognize those qualities in themselves and think about how to leverage these strengths over the past few days,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive, who facilitated the conference. “This has been a perfect way to kick off the HSRU Alliance, and I’m excited to see the mentorships and relationships that flourish among our members as a result.”

With 21 member universities, the alliance represents every university that has been both categorized as R1 — very high research activity — by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and designated as an Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The alliance was established in 2022 to work toward two ambitious goals by 2030: doubling the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled at our universities, and increasing by 20 percent the Hispanic professoriate in member universities. 

With attendees ranging from graduate students to experienced faculty and campus leaders, the conference established and deepened relationships among the alliance community. Activities centered on sharing strategies for resilience and success in academia, sparking collaborative research among the members, and shaping future alliance programming efforts.

Conference participants attended presentations by keynote speakers and panel discussions featuring leaders in academia, industry, and government, and took part in breakout sessions and networking throughout the week. Attendees across career levels discussed personal and professional experiences on their journey through academia, sharing reflections on obstacles and concrete strategies to overcome them. 

“I think everybody just needed a space to share their story, and you could see that in the level and participation – everyone wanted to comment, to share their experiences,” said Marcella Gomez, UC Santa Cruz associate professor of applied mathematics and associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Baskin School of Engineering. “Sometimes we just need that, a space for people to be heard and feel that they are being heard by others who can understand where they are coming from.” 

Keynote speakers included Anne-Marie Núñez, executive director of the Diana Natalicio Institute at the University of Texas, El Paso; Cecilia Aragon, director of the Human-Centered Data Science Lab at the University of Washington; and UC Regent Jose Hernandez. Panel discussions covered topics such as research leadership, industry collaboration, and federal funding opportunities, and included industry leaders with Genentech and Salesforce, and federal officials from the National Sciences Foundation, the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. 

For many, the gathering strengthened the sense of community among scholars who belong to universities in the HSRU Alliance.

“I’m here for all of you,” Aragon said to the room of attendees at the conference. “I’m here if you want to ask questions, to mentor, to connect.”

UC Santa Cruz took a lead role in organizing and hosting the conference, which was made possible by generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation. 

More than 80 people from HSRU institutions participated in the conference, coming from Florida International University, Texas A&M University; University of Texas at Arlington; University of Texas at El Paso; University of Texas at San Antonio; UC Santa Cruz; UC Irvine; UC Riverside; University of Central Florida; University of Colorado, Denver; University of Houston; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; University of North Texas. 

As one of only five institutions in the nation that holds the honor of being a Hispanic Serving Institution, an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution and member of the Association of American Universities, UC Santa Cruz is committed to creating educational equity that will help lead to real, transformative change. The campus in 2022 earned the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, recognition for utilizing data, practice, and leadership to intentionally serve Latinx students.