A $1 million donation from UC Santa Cruz alumna Julie Packard will create the Dean’s Funds for Diversity in the Sciences, which aims to increase minority students’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors primarily through the expansion of three outreach programs.

The Dean of Physical and Biological Sciences, Paul Koch, will monitor her donation, which will be distributed over the course of five years to programs including UCSC’s Summer Research Institute, the Academic Excellence (ACE) Program and the Lamat Program.

“The impact is really going to allow us to reach a much broader group of students,” Koch said. “We’ll express our commitment for the programs affecting underrepresented students and disadvantaged students. Our commitment is making sure that every student admitted to Santa Cruz succeeds.”

Packard, who currently serves as the executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since its opening in 1984, received her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in biology from UCSC.

“I am grateful for the opportunities UCSC gave me as an undergraduate to spend time with top research scientists and be able to do science, not just hear about it,” Packard said in a UCSC press release. “I want my gift to help ensure that underrepresented students in the sciences are able to enjoy the same opportunities at UCSC that I did.”

UCSC’s Summer Research Institute trains students in biomedical lab research. The donation will increase the amount of students that can participate and expand the primarily biological focus to other fields of study — including physical and environmental sciences, and mathematics, Koch said.

Another program that brings students to UCSC in the summer is the Lamat Program, which focuses on bringing community college students to UCSC to conduct research and work with UCSC faculty.
The program first started recruiting students from Hartnell College in Salinas, but now reaches out to all community colleges in California, said program director Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz. The program also plans to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM majors.

“What we wanted was to identify excellent students and bring them here to try and get them to transfer to Santa Cruz, particularly in the physics department, where the number of underrepresented minorities is really low,” Ramirez-Ruiz said. “I wanted to start a culture in which community college students can feel welcome, while also attracting talent.”

This hands-on research increases the chance that students will go to graduate school and continue studying the sciences. UCSC has great resources that allow these students to thrive alongside the largest computational astrophysics group in the world, as well as almost 20 professors in the field, Ramirez-Ruiz said.

The donation will allow the program to increase the number of students who can participate and help financially support the students while in the program. It will also amplify field course offerings in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, specifically with the creation of a new offering — Arctic Biology.

“Some of the students have significant financial restrictions, so my view is rather than them working in a job that’s not furthering their skills, we want to give them funding so that while they are here, they are devoted to their scientific research,” Ramirez-Ruiz said.

Since 1986, the Academic Excellence (ACE) Program has offered support to students in the STEM majors through mentoring and offering discussion sections.

“The donation will mean that we can hire more students,” said ACE program director Nancy Cox-Konopelski. “Since we can hire more peer mentors and student staff, we can therefore enroll more students in our discussion sections to keep our student to teacher ratio 12-to-1.”

In 2010 the program supported 346 students and by the end of this year, the program will support upwards of 550. The 60 percent increase in students was largely due to gift money the program has received over the years, but no donation has been as large as Julie Packard’s, Cox-Konopelski said.

“That money can be spent now, it’s not an endowment that you can only spend a few percent of the amount of money. That will make a difference to today’s students, not ten-years-from-now-students,” Cox-Konopelski said. “This program has a long track record of academic support and improved graduation rates. Julie’s gift will let that continue for more and more students.”

The donation’s objective is to expand existing programs as opposed to starting new ones. Cox-Konopelski agrees this strategy is more helpful than creating new programs.

“What I appreciate the most about this gift is that Julie gave to the campus to build on what’s already here,” Cox-Konopelski said. “It was not important for her to make a new program that would be called the Julie Packard program. She does recognize that the campus does things very well and that with some financial support, it can continue to do those things well.”