Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - July 22, 2021

Army Research Laboratory West
Chancellor Castro’s Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
July 22, 2021

Thank you very much for that kind introduction, Pete, and for providing the opportunity to meet with all of you this afternoon.

I am so impressed with the mission of the Army Research Lab and honored to be in the presence of so much brainpower devoted to advancing science and technology to defend our great country. You are true heroes.

But I am even more impressed to learn of the Army Research Lab’s intentional efforts to create a more inclusive and supportive environment to attract and sustain a diverse workforce, efforts that align so closely with those of the California State University. My appreciation goes to you, Pete, and to Director of Strategic Initiatives, Dr. Jaret Riddick, for spearheading these efforts.

We know that correcting disparities in educational and career opportunities in STEM and diversifying our workforce are not merely one or two well-conceived initiatives or programs away. This is a battle that must be fought and won on multiple fronts and I am thrilled at our potential for collaboration.

I look forward to our discussion later this afternoon, but first I’d like to share a few thoughts on my own lifelong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and why I feel these issues are so important to all of us and to the strength of our nation more broadly.  

Inclusive excellence is one of our university’s core values and as the largest most diverse and most consequential four-year public university in the country, the CSU is proud to be one of our nation’s greatest drivers of socioeconomic ascent. It is our highest mission to afford students of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, abilities, identities and orientations the opportunity to earn the lifelong benefits of a high-quality college degree.  At the same time, by encouraging diversity of thought and discouraging marginalization, we are setting the stage for more enlightened and productive civil discourse and expanding the knowledge base and critical thinking skills that are essential to our nation’s continued progress.

These core values have never been more essential. We have all witnessed the disparate and devastating impact that this year of pandemic, injustice, hate, economic uncertainty and violence has had on our most vulnerable communities.

And as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it will take bold leadership, an authentic and transparent evaluation of our past systems, practices and processes and a commitment to equity and collaborative engagement at every level of our institutions to make sure we are preparing all students – all recruits, service members and employees – to power our nation’s recovery and take part in its future prosperity.

We feel it is our duty to make sure all CSU graduates are well-equipped to join California’s economy, the 5th largest in the world and to help California meet its projected demand for at least 1.3 million additional degree-holders by the year 2030 – including here at the Army Research Lab.

This work will forever be a priority of mine because of my own family’s lived experience.

I am the grandson of a Dreamer from Michoacán, Mexico, whose father – my great grandfather – had come to the United States almost a century ago to help build the railroad. My grandparents were farmworkers. Together with my single mother – a beautician – they raised me. All of them certainly had the drive and intelligence to succeed in college but never the opportunity.

I was the first in my family to go to college, attending UC Berkeley as part of the Educational Opportunity Program, which recruited students from California’s Central Valley and from modest financial means.

Thanks to this opportunity and the example set by my mother and grandparents, I’ve had the privilege of dedicating my life to working hard and serving others to breaking the cycle of poverty for California families like my own and to transforming lives through the power of higher education.

Today, it is my greatest professional honor to lead a team of 56,000 faculty and staff, serving nearly 486,000 students on 23 campuses across the state of California. Nearly half of our students are students of color, half are eligible to receive the Pell Grant, and nearly one-third are first in their families to attend college. We recently honored our largest graduating class ever – 130,000 strong – adding to our growing network of more than 4 million living alumni around the globe. Nearly half of the state’s bachelor’s degrees are awarded by the CSU. One in 10 employees in California is a CSU graduate. And one in 20 college graduates across the country earned their degree from the CSU.

I share these figures to illustrate not only the scale of our efforts but also the great responsibility and potential we hold in creating the workforce of the future – one that accurately represents our country’s changing population and takes full advantage of the diverse talents, perspectives and skills of all communities.

Allow me to share three initiatives that will continue to be key to our success.  

Perhaps most important is the CSU’s flagship student-success effort, Graduation Initiative 2025.  Launched in 2015, this systemwide initiative aims to help more students graduate on a timely basis – and to eliminate equity gaps that exist between students of color, low-income students and first-generation students and their peers.

It’s focused on meeting students where they are, removing administrative barriers, helping them meet their basic needs, providing proactive advising exactly when and where students need support, and, importantly, sharing real-time data and best practices across our 23 campuses systemwide, leveraging the power of the system to spur continuous improvement.

Now at the midway point, our efforts have been rewarded with record-high retention and graduation rates for students from all backgrounds. But even as we celebrate our victories, we know there is much more work to be done. This year we redoubled our efforts to eliminate stubborn equity gaps by targeting resources and scaling campus-proven programs systemwide. We won’t rest until equity gaps are closed – once and for all.

That brings me to a second key initiative – diversifying our leaders, faculty and staff.  It remains extraordinarily important to me that our students see themselves in our campus communities and feel a sense of belonging, seen, heard and valued in their surroundings. We must continue to employ creative strategies to ensure that our diverse students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who authentically understand their lived experiences because they’ve walked a similar path and are uniquely able to inspire the very best in these talented students.

I have already started discussions with University of California President Michael Drake to develop a pipeline program that encourages CSU graduates to enter doctoral programs at the UC and that inspires them to ultimately return to the CSU as faculty members. I believe the program shows great promise, but it will take focus, resources and teamwork to make it happen.

And finally, and perhaps most relevant to your lab, we continue to build and strengthen pipelines to draw diverse students into the in-demand fields of the future, including the STEM disciplines and to secure funding, opportunities and support for these deserving scholars.

In recent years, for instance, the CSU’s 23 campuses competed for – and received – 100 million dollars in U.S. Department of Education grants, a million dollars from the Department of Agriculture, and 15 million dollars from the National Science Foundation, all designated specifically for our Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

As just one example of these transformative grant programs, at Chico State, data showed that students of color were disproportionately affected by low pass rates in some of the university’s larger introductory STEM courses, leading many to leave the STEM fields altogether. Thanks to a 2.2-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, these courses now incorporate hands-on research experiences to help students build connections with peers and faculty, hone their skills and begin to identify as scientists. You may someday soon see a few of these students show up at the lab with their impressive resumes in hand–feel free to consider these remarks a letter of recommendation in advance.  

Our campuses also continue to cultivate relationships, internship programs, experiential learning opportunities and mentorships with community and industry partners aimed at diversifying the STEM fields. I was impressed to learn about the Army Research Lab’s recent research opportunities in robotics for students at Cal State Long Beach and information analysis and virtual route planning for students at our campus in Northridge. You’ve provided our students with important skills, connections and inspiration that will surely last a lifetime.

Campuses across the CSU have partnered with other community agencies to launch campus-based groups such as Women in Engineering, the Mexican-American Engineers Society and the Society for Hispanic Engineers. And we’ve worked closely with organizations such as Great Minds in STEM, Cal-Bridge, the Summer Algebra Institute, and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in offering pathways to STEM roles and research.

But beyond this long list of partnerships, beyond the numbers and initiatives, what matters most to me is that each life we touch is a success story. In closing, I’d like to share just one.

Luis Dominguez is a systems integration and test engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A child of immigrants who was raised in South Los Angeles, he always had a passion for science and a fascination with space, but never considered a career in the field a realistic goal – in fact, as a high schooler, he had no idea that JPL even existed, despite growing up less than 20 miles away.

It wasn’t until he was in college – at Cal Poly Pomona – that he first learned about JPL. He applied for and was accepted into an internship program – and has worked there ever since.

Luis and his team were responsible for testing and installing the electronics and software systems for Perseverance, the rover that is the centerpiece of the long-term robotic Mars exploration mission currently underway more than 180 million miles above the earth’s surface.

Today, he takes his role of inspiring future generations of diverse scientists, engineers and mathematicians as seriously as he does his work. And it’s his reason why that resonates with me, and I quote, “It’s because I 100-percent believe that genius is everywhere.”

In my opinion, that’s why we’re here, that’s why the Army Research Lab is reimagining its practices and that’s why it’s imperative that we work tirelessly to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the STEM fields and in every discipline.

Again, thank you for inviting me today. I look forward to our shared work, to future collaboration and to continuing our conversation. Pete, would you please facilitate our discussion?