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Diversity Is Our Future: UC San Diego in the Next 50 Years

Jade Griffin | Feb. 28, 2011

UC San Diego alumnus Chris Yanov shared his efforts to help at-risk youth attend college with the nonprofit organization, Reality Changers.
Photos/Erik Jepsen

Never underestimate the power of an idea.
That was message participants of the noontime IDEaS symposium on “Diversity Is Our Future: UC San Diego in the Next 50 Years” had to share with an audience of more than 150 faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members in attendance.

The panel featured alumnus Christopher Yanov, ’99, executive director of the local nonprofit Reality Changers; Ken Hall, a diversity officer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and Sandi Clement, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Biological Sciences. The panel was moderated by Gabriele Weinhausen, Ph.D., associate dean for education in the Division of Biological Sciences.

Weinhausen kicked off the symposium stating that a diverse campus community is essential for the university to keep at the forefront of innovation and find solutions to challenges facing the world and pointed out that it is essential that we foster mutual trust, respect and the ability to listen and be open to one another’s ideas.

Christopher Yanov followed with his efforts to provide inner-city youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with the resources to become first generation college students. Yanov’s journey began as a freshman at UC San Diego, when he volunteered to lead a youth group of gang members.

Ken Hall of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography discussed the need for a diverse student body and workforce in STEM fields.

It is not right that most inner-city teenagers today know more people who have been shot or killed in the street than people who are on the road to college,” said Yanov.

With a novel idea to change this reality, he established Reality Changers. The program brings at-risk youth together with mentors—many of which are UC San Diego students.

Reality Changers students also attend UC San Diego’s Academic Connections program, which gives them the opportunity to live on campus and take college level courses in a range of topics during the summer.

Reality Changers has helped more than 200 students attend some of the nation’s top universities—from Harvard to Columbia to UC San Diego. Yanov recounted the story of Eduardo Corona, who as a teenager faced six years in a correctional facility.  Corona’s judge allowed him to enter Reality Changers rather than jail. Corona soon doubled his GPA. He attended Academic Connections at UCSD and won two awards in mechanical engineering. Today, Corona is thriving as he attends UC Riverside. Using Corona’s story to exemplify the change that is possible, Yanov concluded: “We must take action to change reality.”

Ken Hall then shared the efforts of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to ensure a diverse student body and work force in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Initiatives include a range of outreach programs to engage high school students in the possibility of pursuing careers in the sciences.  For example, Scripps Oceanography has established an ongoing relationship with Compton High School. Director Tony Haymet and Scripps graduate students have visited the school and a group of Compton High students spent three weeks on the UC San Diego campus, learning about marine biology, oceanography and more. Scripps has also reached out to local schools including San Diego High School, Mission Bay High School and Lincoln High School.
“What started as an idea to reach out to high school students has blossomed into something positive and life-changing,” recalled Hall.

Sandi Clement rounded out the symposium with a discussion about the need for diversity training in the classroom. A postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Biological Sciences, Clement came up with the idea of creating a training workshop for teachers assistants (TAs) on “Diversity in the Classroom.”

The training focused on the importance of conveying that ability is developed, not innate; addressing different learning styles; making course work relevant and showing examples of scientists from diverse backgrounds. “Identity can and should matter in the classroom,” said Clement.

Clement wrapped up with a homework assignment for the crowd: “Tell others your idea. I think you’ll find it empowering, addictive and contagious. Your words and actions can make a difference.”

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