Cal-Bridge Program Receives $5 Million NSF Grant to Increase Diversity in Physics and Astronomy
A consortium of 16 California State University and 9 University of California campuses, led by Cal Poly Pomona, has been 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.
Launched four years ago, Cal-Bridge creates a pathway for students from multiple CSU campuses to attend Ph.D. programs in physics and astronomy at UCs across the state. The 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.
“This grant will increase representation nationwide by 50 percent, all from one program in California,” said Alexander Rudolph, a Cal Poly Pomona Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Director of the Cal-Bridge program.
“CSU students are often not aware of the opportunities to continue their education,” Rudolph said. “The Cal-Bridge program is designed to provide the mentoring and financial resources they need to help them achieve their dreams of becoming physicists and astronomers."
A total of 9 Cal Poly Pomona physics majors have participated in the Cal-Bridge program since its inception, including 4 in the current academic year (see photo). The Cal Poly Pomona Cal-Bridge scholars have gone on to PhD and other graduate programs in physics and astronomy including UC Irvine, Michigan State University, Pennsylvania State University, and the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD program. Cal Poly Pomona 2018 physics graduate and Cal-Bridge scholar José Flores won a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and 2016 physics graduate and Cal-Bridge scholar Jessica Maldonado received an honorable mention.
Cal Poly Pomona senior and current Cal-Bridge Scholar Evan Nuñez has been fascinated by the universe since he was 7 when he read a book on Venus. “I was immediately hooked because of how deceiving Venus was. Since Venus is similar to Earth in mass and size, we expected there to be life. Instead, we found hell. That was so astonishing.”
Nunez said Cal-Bridge has been instrumental in his academic success. “Thanks to my Cal-Bridge scholarship, I do not need to work while studying. Thanks to my Cal-Bridge mentoring, I know that I am not alone through this process of applying to graduate school.”
The program uses research-validated selection methods to identify “diamonds-in-the-rough” — students from underrepresented groups who display strong non-cognitive abilities along with academic potential — and provides them with the support necessary to successfully matriculate to a Ph.D. program in the Cal-Bridge network. Once selected, Cal-Bridge Scholars benefit from substantial financial support, intensive joint mentoring by CSU and UC faculty, professional development workshops, and exposure to a wide variety of research opportunities. The Cal-Bridge program awards up to $10,000 per year in financial aid to each scholar, based on demonstrated need, for up to three years.