Nine University of California (UC) schools and 15 California State University (CSU) campuses were collectively awarded a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for scholarships to increase diversity in physics and astronomy.

Scholarships are awarded to students through the Cal-Bridge program, which helps students from an underrepresented background earn advanced degrees from public universities across the state of California.

“To maintain U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, the need to encourage participation from diverse groups of students to produce a highly trained and well-educated STEM workforce is paramount,” said Andrea Johnson, Ph.D., program director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education.“The NSF is thrilled that the Cal-Bridge program is one of the institutions taking the lead in this endeavor.”

From 2013 until 2017, less than 10 percent of Ph.Ds in physics and astronomy were awarded to underrepresented ethnic and racial minorities at U.S. institutions, according to data collected by the American Physical Society

“In terms of both the student body and faculty, African Americans, Hispanics and women are severely underrepresented in our field,” said Tammy Smecker-Hane, associate professor of physics & astronomy at the UC Irvine (UCI). “The mission of Cal-Bridge is to correct this disparity and open the doors of opportunity to people who have been left out for too long.”

Cal-Bridge launched four years ago with a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The program was originally designed to help minority undergraduate astronomy majors at California Polytechnic University, Pomona earn graduate degrees at UCI and other Southern California UCs.

The new grant is expected to allow the program to expand to more than 50 scholars across the state, doubling the number of doctoral students in physics and astronomy nationwide. Cal-Bridge also plans to expand the disciplines it covers to include bio-, condensed matter, particle, plasma, and theoretical physics.

“I firmly believe the adage that ‘talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not,’” said Soraya M. Coley, president of Cal Poly Pomona. “Cal-Bridge is an engine of opportunity that is providing transformative educational experiences for students across our state.”