STEM Diversity Programs grows team to support graduate student success

portrait of Steven Paniagua
Steven Paniagua is the new graduate advisor for STEM Diversity. 
portrait of Felix Perez
Felix Perez is the new coordinator for undergraduate, post baccalaureate, and graduate programs for STEM Diversity. 

STEM Diversity Programs at UC Santa Cruz support underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in a variety of ways. Through these programs, students gain research experience and opportunities for professional development while obtaining holistic support and mentoring, fostering a sense of inclusion, acceptance, and community.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, as well as state- and donor-supported programs, fund the diversity programs’ umbrella office. This spring, STEM Diversity and the campus community welcome two new staff members:

Steven Paniagua is taking a new role as graduate advisor. In this position, Paniagua will lead the Peer Mentoring Coalition, a divisional organization that provides graduate students with peer-mentoring opportunities. Mentoring creates support networks, enhances a sense of community among grad students, and is critical for fostering student persistence. In addition, he will provide academic departments with mentorship program best practices to support the overall success of STEM students across campus.

Paniagua will provide support to graduate students who were part of the UC LEADS program as undergraduates by connecting them to programming resources and professional development opportunities at the graduate level. He will also help manage the NIH-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Development graduate-training grant.

“This position represents a substantial investment in addressing the needs of our community where it's most needed. Steven's leadership signifies a bold step forward, reinforcing our dedication to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment,” said STEM Diversity program director Yulianna Ortega. “I'm excited for the future impact of Steven’s leadership and to work with him.” 

Paniagua is a first-generation Mexican-American and UC Santa Cruz alum. As a student, he was part of STEM Diversity’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC), an NIH-funded program that provides research training to students competing for entry into graduate programs leading to a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences. Paniagua continued to study the genetics of reading and language disorders, eventually earning his Ph.D. at Yale. He was also the founding member of the first Connecticut chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). 

“I am incredibly excited to be working as the inaugural STEM Diversity Graduate Advisor and to bring my skills back to my alma mater, as this feels like a true ‘come back home’ moment,” Paniagua said.

STEM Diversity is also excited to welcome Felix Perez as its new coordinator for undergraduate, post baccalaureate, and graduate programs. His role will be streamlining daily operations, supporting event planning, and enhancing the office's overall effectiveness and reach. 

Perez, an indigenous Guatemalan Mayan and first-generation college graduate, earned a B.A. in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 2019. “I am deeply grateful to now be part of the STEM Diversity staff,” he said. “This opportunity fills me with excitement as I embrace the chance to further the mission of empowering students from historically marginalized backgrounds with the tools and experiences essential for success in higher education.”