Latina scientists recognized as CAMPOS scholars

The University of California, Davis, is building a core of Latina faculty in science, technology, engineering, social sciences and math to educate and inspire a new generation of Californians.

"There is a dearth of Latina STEM scientists in the nation, so the implications of having a critical mass at UC Davis are huge," said Marylou de Leon Siantz, professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and founding director of the Center for Advancing Multicultural Perspectives on Science, part of the ADVANCE initiative at UC Davis.

Seven faculty members recently recruited to UC Davis have been named as CAMPOS scholars and will be honored at a public event Thursday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m. at the Gunrock Pub on campus. Mexican Consul-General Carlos Gutierrez will be represented and members of the state legislature's Hispanic caucus have been invited to the event.

The five to be recognized are:

  • Anna La Torre, assistant professor, Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy, School of Medicine;
  • Cindy Rubio Gonzalez, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering;
  • Jacqueline Barlow, assistant professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Biological Sciences;
  • Lillian Cruz-Orengo, assistant professor, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine; and
  • Professor Mariel Vazquez, Department of Mathematics, College of Letters and Science and Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Biological Sciences.

Another two researchers, Sarah Besky and Magdalena Cerda, have recently been recruited under the program and will soon start at the Department of Human Ecology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and at the Violence Prevention Research Program in the Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine, respectively. The CAMPOS scholars were selected for their transformative thinking, unique perspectives, interdisciplinary approaches, and leadership potential to impact their discipline in profound and enduring ways.

Diversity key to innovation

Innovation in science and engineering is vital to the U.S. economy, and college graduates in STEM subjects are in high demand for these careers. Yet many young people remain reluctant to enter fields that require a background in science, technology, engineering or math, because of lack of knowledge, lack of role models or poor preparation. A 2006 survey found that Hispanic women make up just 1 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce.

"The link between diversity and innovation is an important concern to higher education, because it impacts efficiency and innovation," de Leon Siantz said. "Managing diverse workforces, multinational teams and cross-cultural communication have become a necessity of the global marketplace."

ADVANCE is an institutional program, launched by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi in 2012 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, to increase the participation of women in STEM careers. CAMPOS, part of the ADVANCE program, aims to attract women and Latina experts in science, engineering and math to UC Davis by offering a support network of mentorship and resources.

The initiative plans to add a total of 16 CAMPOS scholars as UC Davis hires more faculty under the university's "2020" plan, de Leon Siantz said. The hires follow the same recruitment process and have to meet the same standards as other professors. Once appointed, they have access to mentorship and resources to help them establish their careers.

Latina women are a double minority in academia, de Leon Siantz noted. Apart from barriers based on sex, Latinas who want to pursue a career in science or engineering may face language challenges and frequently come from backgrounds poor in science and math, she said.

The CAMPOS scholars at UC Davis will be role models for young women in the community, de Leon Siantz said.

"It's critical to have a faculty that looks like the student body," she said.

Chancellor's leading role

De Leon Siantz's own parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and her research focuses on health and education in adolescent Hispanic immigrants. Recently, she's worked with girls migrating between Guadalajara and the San Joaquin Valley.

She credited Katehi with having the vision to drive initiatives to increase diversity.

"I've never been at a university with such potential as we have with this chancellor," she said. "We are becoming a model for the nation."

Since 2009, UC Davis has increased the percentage of women among ladder-rank faculty from 29 to 33 percent. This year's incoming class was the most diverse in the university's history, with 22.4 percent of freshman and transfer students identifying as Hispanic. UC Davis has a goal of becoming a designated Hispanic Serving Institution by 2018.

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Andy Fell, Research news (emphasis: biological and physical sciences, and engineering), 530-752-4533,

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