Bridging Academic Divides

  • BY Cal State East Bay
  • October 5, 2018

Cal State East Bay is part of a consortium of 15 California State University and nine University of California campuses collectively awarded a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to dramatically increase diversity in physics and astronomy through the Cal-Bridge program.


“Having faced challenges derived from their socioeconomic status throughout life and during their early college careers, our physics students at Cal State East Bay are an excellent fit to this program,” said Amy Furniss, assistant professor of physics. “Through significant financial support and direct mentorship by both CSU and UC faculty, the program helps students who intend to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy, physics or some other related field through the graduate school application process as well as prepare them for the challenges that await them in their graduate careers.”

Currently, students from underrepresented minority groups represent 30 percent of the U.S. population, but receive less than 4 percent of the physics and astronomy Ph.D.s awarded nationwide.

Cal-Bridge scholars are recruited from the 15 CSU campuses and more than 30 community colleges in the Cal-Bridge network, with the help of local faculty and staff liaisons at each campus.

Furniss has been involved in supporting Cal-Bridge since 2015. She is a steering committee member and a mentor to two Cal-Bridge scholars at Cal State East Bay.

“Cal State East Bay is one of the best-represented CSU campuses within the program, currently having three students accepted into the program,” she said. “Compared to the 5-10 physics students that graduate from the CSUEB physics department each year, this program is already supporting a significant fraction of our students in their Ph.D. goals. We expect even more Cal State East Bay students to be accepted into the program in the next year.”

Launched four years ago, the Cal-Bridge program has already had a national impact on the number of students from underrepresented groups graduating with a physics degree and matriculating to Ph.D. programs in physics or astronomy. The new grant allows Cal-Bridge to expand from about a dozen scholars per year to as many as 50 statewide. The national average of underrepresented minorities, or "URM" students, earning a Ph.D. in these fields is about 80 per year.

The program has been highly successful in its first five years in developing a pipeline of highly diverse, qualified scholars, many of whom have already successfully matriculated to a Ph.D. program in physics or astronomy. The program just selected its fifth cohort of 27 scholars from 10 different CSU campuses across the state, bringing the total number of scholars to 61 in five cohorts, including 35 Latinos, seven African-Americans and 27 women (16 of the 27 women are from underrepresented minority groups). In the last three years, 19 of 21 Cal-Bridge scholars who have earned their bachelor’s degree in physics have begun or will attend Ph.D. programs in physics or astronomy at top programs nationally.