BY CHELSEA CANTANIA
Unfortunately, it is accepted that the pipeline in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is leaky—a term referring to the unintended loss of trainees from the disciplines; specifically, women and underrepresented groups. Fostering an open and diverse scientific community that draws from an array of unique experiences and perspectives is necessary to develop world-class talent in STEM. Policymakers and educators have put a lot of effort into broadening participation, but more needs to be done at different points along this “pipe”.
The biggest “leak” of underrepresented minority (URM) group participation in STEM occurs in the transition from undergraduate to graduate school. Roughly one out of every three non-URMs go to graduate school after graduating from a STEM program, compared to one out of four URMs graduates.  The higher rate of loss in URMs at the graduate level ultimately results in disproportionate representation in the professional workforce. Graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara have pinpointed a unique opportunity where they can make a difference.
Graduate Students for the Diversity in Science
Graduate Students for the Diversity in Science (GSDS) is a student-run organization, with support from the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB, and funding from the Dow Chemical Company, that is centered on the promotion of underrepresented group participation in the sciences, and fostering an atmosphere that celebrates diversity. They tackle this using a combination of outreach events and lecture series.
GSDS is exceptional in their inclusion of all minority groups within a single organization, even including a minority of majority group participation. To cultivate an environment of inclusion, which is state of being valued, respected and supported, GSDS believes that all groups should be empathetic to the adversity others have had to face. By sharing their experiences on a peer-to-peer level, and including non-URM participants in the conversation, they’ve been able to cultivate a healthy environment on campus.
Student organized lecture series
GSDS hosts well-known, sought-after individuals from academia, industry and national labs to campus for their triannual Dow Distinguished Lecture series. One invited scientist, Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, aka “the queen of carbon science”, mentioned during her talk that she declines many invitations, however she accepted the invitation from GSDS because it was the students who invited her, not the faculty.
Visitors prepare two talks: a technical talk describing their work and a diversity talk, which is often a description of their career path. Emphasis on diversity in these talks is used to inspire future scientists to move forward in their career. The first speaker in the 2015-2016 series was the Facility Director of the Biological Nanostructures Facility at The Molecular Foundry, Ronald Zuckermann, who has made it his mission to develop an environment of inclusion at the Foundry. He gave two talks, a scientific talk on his work on peptoid polymers, and a diversity talk, where he spoke about building relationships with mentees and collaborators.
Outreach with local California State Universities
Through partnership with local California State Universities, GSDS acts as a group of graduate student mentors. GSDS invites undergraduate students to UCSB in conjunction with the Dow Distinguished Lecture series, where they are introduced to graduate school, through facility tours and meetings with graduate students and faculty. Additionally, GSDS holds reverse site visits, where graduate students from UCSB visit CSU campuses to talk about their experiences. This partnership promotes awareness regarding career options and research opportunities available to students who might not otherwise learn about graduate school opportunities. These visits provide an opportunity for CSU students to envision themselves in a graduate STEM program.
One example is Yvonne Diaz, a graduate of CSU-Northridge, who is the first to come to UCSB after attending a GSDS outreach event during her senior year. When asked about the role of the GSDS visit in her decision, Diaz recalled “my experience that day made my transition from undergraduate a little easier and it definitely made my decision to come to UCSB an easy one to make.” Not only that, but she was able to connect with Professors Craig Hawker and Javier Read de Alaniz during her visit, who are now her joint PhD advisors.
Extending the community
GSDS hopes to inspire other campuses to develop similar organizations, with the potential of a future nationwide network. Recently, a group of students from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have started a similar group on their campus out of their Polymer Science and Engineering (PSE) Department. Other groups are also in the making, as participants from GSDS take new positions at different universities.
If you are interested in creating a similar group at your institution, or would like to book GSDS for an outreach event, contact info for representatives at GSDS can be found at http://gsds.mrl.ucsb.edu.
 Allen-Ramdial, S.A. and Cambell, A. G. Reimagining the Pipeline: Advancing STEM Diversity, Persistence, and Success. Bioscience. 2014 ; 64(7): 612–618