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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

California's Hispanic STEM Students to Benefit from $50 Million Technology Hub

California State University (CSU), Northridge campus has been selected as the site for a $50 million technology hub. The hopeful causes made possible by a public/private partnership between the state of California and Apple Inc.

Apple matched a $25 million allocation in the 2021-22 California state budget and will provide technology, design support, and thought partnership once the Hub is operational. Several federal and state legislators were also instrumental in securing funding for the Hub.

The new Global Hispanic Serving Institution Equity Innovation Hub, as it will be named, is intended to attract Hispanic and other underserved youths to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) studies. Its opening is planned for 2024.

The complex will comprise research labs, a maker space, and a student display space but will also incorporate online programming. It will also offer students mentoring programs and access to a national network of STEM leaders and employers, in addition to access to interdisciplinary STEM research.

The California State University System

CSU campuses awarded more than 26,000 STEM undergraduate and graduate degrees in 2020-21. Comprised of 23 campuses, CSU is America’s largest four-year higher education system, and 21 of its campuses have been granted Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) status.

HSIs are higher educational institutes with at least 25 percent full-time Latinx undergraduate students and at least 50 percent low-income students. HSI status allows these CSU campuses to compete for federal funding to develop capacity to support students' educational opportunities, particularly Latinx and other historically underserved groups.

More than half of the 39,000 students enrolled at Northridge this year are Latino, and the campus has the longest history of serving Latino students within the university system. However, the Global Hispanic Serving Institution Equity Innovation Hub will collaborate with other CSU campuses and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) nationally to flow students into high-demand careers in STEM.

Hispanic Workers Are Underrepresented in STEM Jobs

California is the fifth-largest economy globally, primarily powered by business activities that rely on STEM skills. And Governor Gavin Newsom is committed to ensuring his state’s innovation capabilities continue to expand while also "expanding equitable educational opportunities for the state's largest population.” Partnering with Apple will allow the many talented students in California and elsewhere to benefit from cutting-edge technology in the new state-of-the-art facility.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has updated its projections for STEM occupations in the United States since the coronavirus outbreak and predicts strong growth for many. Fields such as epidemiology, biochemistry, medical science, and biophysics, in particular, will be in high demand. But a recent Pew Research Center analysis of US government data shows a clear underrepresentation of Hispanic workers in STEM fields.

Workers who identify as Hispanic make up 8 percent of the STEM workforce, compared to the 17 percent share they have of all jobs. Their share of STEM degrees is similarly low. In the 2017-2018 school year, only 9 percent of STEM master’s degrees were awarded to people who are Hispanic, compared to their 11 percent share of all master’s degrees. People of Hispanic descent obtained only 6 percent of all STEM research doctorates and only 7 percent of STEM professional doctorates.

Pew’s researchers say prospects for improved diversity in the STEM workforce are directly connected to the educational system. And although there has been a significant increase in the number of STEM graduates since 2010, there's been no sign of a change in the demographic profile of graduates.

Erika D. Beck, President of CSUN, believes we must reframe education through an equity and racial-justice lens. She says diversity can only be achieved by shifting the focus from what students need to be and do to be successful to what educational institutions can do to better serve a diverse student body. Beck regards the new Equity Innovation Hub as an ideal place to continue such collaborative efforts and roll out proven strategies to HSIs nationally.

Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, says her organization is “focused on advancing enduring change, and our newest grant commitments will further that effort by supporting problem solvers and solution seekers in communities of color nationwide. Education, economic opportunity, and environmental justice are fundamental pillars to ensuring racial equity, and everyone has a role to play in this critical mission.”

Political Role Models behind Support for the Hub

Three politicians who identify as Hispanic played a key role in encouraging the funding of the Equity Innovation Hub:

- Senator Alex Padilla, who has served as the junior United States Senator from California since 2021. He is the first Latino to represent California in the US Senate and one of the few Senators with an engineering degree.

- Antonio Cárdenas, who has served as Representative for California's 29th congressional district since 2013.

- Luz Maria Rivas, who serves in the California State Assembly for California's 39th State Assembly district.

All three obtained engineering degrees despite growing up on the "wrong side of town" and went on to become elected leaders in the San Fernando Valley.

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