Introducing the second cohort of Racial Equity Fellows
January 10, 2022--Seven UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering students have been selected to serve as Racial Equity Fellows. In this role, they will act as student advocates on the Jacobs School Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force, each bringing their demonstrated interest in diversity, equity and inclusion to the Task Force. These students represent undergraduate and graduate perspectives from all six academic departments at the Jacobs School.
|The 2021 Jacobs School Racial Equity Fellows|
The goal of the Jacobs School Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force is to make the Jacobs School a truly inclusive community. The Task Force, which kicked off in 2020 along with the first cohort of Racial Equity Fellows, is tasked with developing a comprehensive understanding of existing programs and resources in place to reach this goal, and suggesting solutions where gaps exist. The Task Force is working on such issues as improving retention and time-to-degree for Black, Latinx and Native American students, and recruitment and retention of faculty from these same groups underrepresented in engineering. Among its activities last year, the task force helped launch several new recruiting events for admitted Black, Latinx and Native American students that resulted in an increase of newly admitted undergraduate engineering students from those groups.
The seven new Racial Equity Fellows will bring student concerns and suggestions to the larger Task Force group. The students receive a $1,000 stipend for the yearlong fellowship. In addition to these seven Racial Equity Fellows, the Task Force also includes a faculty representative from each department; a representative from the IDEA Engineering Student Center; the Associate Deans for Students and for Faculty Affairs; and the Jacobs School Faculty Equity Advisor.
This year the task force will build on the work that was started last year. At the student level, a central focus will be on classroom and research lab climate, and building community among students from racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in engineering and computer science.
“I’m excited about what the Task Force accomplished last year," said Christine Alvarado, Associate Dean for Students and a computer science professor at the Jacobs School who co-led the creation of the Student and Faculty Racial Equity Task Force. "The undergraduate student recruiting efforts that we launched were so successful that we plan to repeat them every year. The perspective and energy that the 2020 Racial Equity Fellows brought to the Task Force was critical to the success of our efforts, and I look forward to learning from and working with the 2021 Fellows.”
2021 Racial Equity Fellows:
Mariam Abdu is an undergraduate structural engineering student, and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the National Society of Leadership and Success. A refugee from Kenya, Abdu said showing up fully as herself is an important part of making campus more welcoming.
“It is important that I take up space, speaking in my native Arabic tongue and dressing in my religious garment, because I want other students to feel comfortable occupying a space that they are underrepresented in,” she said.
Abdu also works as an administrative assistant with the Division of Biological Sciences, managing the Biology Bulletin and weekly newsletter, where she shares campus resources with students.
“As a Triton who transferred from social science to engineering, I want all students to feel confident pursuing STEM. A fundamental part of getting a diverse population of students in STEM is prioritizing a welcoming and informative environment. I look forward to upholding racial equity in the Jacobs School of Engineering by serving as an envoy between students and administration. As a Jacobs School Racial Equity Fellow, I envision a sincere celebration of students' unique backgrounds while getting them acquainted and excited in STEM.”
Jennifer Hernandez-Mora is an undergraduate mechanical engineering student, and president of the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. She is also a member of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space organization (SEDS at UC San Diego), where she helped develop a female mentorship program that increased the number of underrepresented women in the club threefold. A first-generation student, Hernandez encourages students to take advantage of the existing resources campus has to offer, while pushing to expand these support networks, such as the IDEA Engineering Student Center.
Alexander Perez de Leon:
Undergraduate nanoengineering student Alexander Perez de Leon is all about action. A Latinx student who conducted research as a McNair Scholar and serves as a mentor to five students through the Mentorship Collective, Perez de Leon aims to help the Task Force bring tangible changes to student life.
“I am particularly interested in how we can help students and administrators take advantage of the resources and infrastructure UC San Diego has. In other words, I want to serve the students by helping admin serve students better," he said. “I hope to balance our strong sense of idealism with an equal amount of pragmatism. Tangible impact, I believe, is the most fulfilling and also the most important to administration and students. With all this said I am enthusiastic to meet my peers and create a welcoming environment for all perspectives and ideas.”
He demonstrated what he means by action during COVID-19, developing next-generation solar cells and light-emitting diodes for cheap energy generation and consumption. He also worked with his local hospital and earplug manufacturers to provide the night shift nurses with custom earplugs, helping to improve the nurses' rest during the day.
Mary Anne Smart:
Mary Anne Smart, a PhD student in computer science, plans to bring what she’s learned as a Cultural Competence in Computing (3C) Fellow to the Task Force. 3C is a professional development program aiming to help computing professionals learn about racism, bias, discrimination and intersectionality. Smart aims to not only work toward a more diverse body of researchers, but also to push for more of a focus on the impact of racism within technologies themselves.
“With a few notable exceptions, the impact of racism in the development of technology is rarely mentioned in engineering classes. Furthermore, the Jacobs School should highlight and support research projects examining the role of racism in engineering education, in the development of technology, and in other aspects of university life. The Jacobs School Racial Equity Task Force has the opportunity to make meaningful changes to advance racial equity at UC San Diego.”
Among the ideas Smart will bring to the Task Force for consideration are opportunities for more partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and to strengthen recruiting efforts for both undergraduate and graduate students from backgrounds underrepresented in engineering and computer science.
Undergraduate electrical engineering student Marco Paredes knows first-hand how valuable student diversity organizations can be. A first-generation Latinx student and Vice President External of the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Paredes hopes to increase support for these groups.
“As a first-generation minority student at UC San Diego, I am committed to increasing the number of underrepresented students in STEM as well as providing a safe space for these students to succeed academically and professionally. A student can thrive more in a diverse space; having each diversity organization prosper will help every student (including those who are not minorities) become more comfortable. With that, as VP External ( of the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), I will be moving towards not only inviting more companies to work with SHPE at UC San Diego, but also further developing partnerships between the diversity organizations and working together to organize workshops.”
Rayyan Gorashi is a bioengineering PhD student with a goal of increasing support for students from underrepresented backgrounds. She hopes to ensure that this support stays active within academic settings, not separate from them. She’s already doing this as a member of the Jacobs Undergraduate Mentorship Program (JUMP) and the Bioengineering Graduate Society (BEGS), and plans to continue this advocacy as a Racial Equity Fellow.
“While offices like the Black Resource Center are incredible resources in and of themselves, I strongly believe that there is much work needed to be done to bring an equitable amount of support for Black and LatinX students in the academic setting. As an undergraduate, I realized that the racial disparities in academia were going to last for the entirety of my higher education. As tough as this realization was, knowing that there was minimal support from academic departments felt even tougher. The initiation of this Racial Equity Task Force, as well as its inclusion of both undergraduate and graduate students presents a big step in the right direction towards support for students from underrepresented backgrounds."
"Ultimately, I hope to increase the visibility of students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM. I also hope to provide better support to students as they transition to UC San Diego through additional orientation programming and continued mentorship for the duration of their graduate careers.”
As an undergraduate, Gorashi led the Johns Hopkins chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers where she developed an engineering outreach program with an all-girls high school in Baltimore. She’s continuing her involvement in outreach elementary through undergraduate students through BEGS and JUMP.
Sheron Tavares, a doctoral student in the materials science and engineering program in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, came to UC San Diego from Brazil. Her father worked in the blast furnace of a steel manufacturer, which piqued Tavares’ interest in steel. After working at the steel plant herself, she realized she would need an advanced degree to make the type of research contributions she wanted. While earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees in metallurgical engineering in Brazil, Tavares taught math and Portuguese classes for extremely poor students from favelas, an experience that has shaped her outlook on racial equity.
“I believe that knowledge is the greatest wealth we can have,” she said. “Nobody can take it from you.”
In addition to finding ways to better support underrepresented students once they’re on campus, Tavares hopes to find ways to increase the number of these students interested in and attending UC San Diego, noting, for example, that the number of Black students on campus doesn’t reflect the Black community in San Diego.
“From my point of view, developing socioeconomic policies is an alternative [for] attracting Black and African American students to UC San Diego. I think that the creation of a space to honor Black personalities on the campus will make the students feel more comfortable. In addition, this homage will demonstrate that UC San Diego is concerned about the racial issue. I think that the university needs to promote more activities to the students, independent of their nationality, race, or religion. These activities should encourage deeper interaction between students of all backgrounds.”
"I'm so happy to recognize the important work of the students as Racial Equity Fellows here at the Jacobs School," said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. "Engineering and computer science for the public good is the bedrock value of the Jacobs School. Fully delivering on this promise requires that each and every one of our students, faculty and staff has the material and social support necessary to thrive. The Racial Equity Fellows program is an important step in this direction, with a particular focus on students."
Jacobs School of Engineering