Cal State L.A. president pledges to boost minority STEM graduates at White House Education Summit

Cal State L.A. President Covino with STEM students

College Opportunity Summit hosted by President Obama, First Lady and Vice President

Cal State L.A. President William A. Covino on Thursday pledged to increase the number of degrees awarded to minority students in the critical fields of math, science and technology during a White House education summit.

Hosted by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, the second White House College Opportunity Summit brought together more than 300 college presidents and other community leaders. Participants committed to undertake efforts that will encourage greater numbers of students to enroll in college and graduate. The initiatives target low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students.   

Covino pledged to increase by 25% over five years the number of degrees awarded to minority students in the university’s College of Natural and Social Sciences and College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology. Cal State L.A. has been a leader in producing graduates in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. 

“Cal State L.A. has long championed efforts to insure that all students have access to higher education and receive the support they need to succeed.  Increasing our STEM graduates is a crucial need, and builds upon our faculty's distinction as nationally ranked mentors for the scientists and engineers who will transform our future," Covino said. “This summit situates our goals—and our success—in the national arena. We applaud President Obama for tackling an issue that is of crucial importance to our nation’s ability to compete in an increasingly technological world.”

Summit participants, including California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and other CSU presidents, took part in panel discussions and heard remarks by President Obama, the First Lady and the Vice President.

The summit focused on key goals: building college networks that will collaborate to improve graduation rates; investing in high school counselors as part of the first lady’s Reach Higher initiative; creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, and increasing the number of college graduates in STEM fields.

To help support these initiatives, President Obama announced that $10 million will be directed to help promote college completion and a $30-million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college. 

Cal State L.A. plans to increase its STEM graduation numbers through initiatives, including additional academic counseling, redesigning courses to emphasize scientific research and creating a general science degree program.

At Cal State L.A., more than 100 graduates in the past 12 years have earned Ph.D.’s in STEM-related disciplines and are in postdoctoral fellowships, industrial positions and faculty appointments.

In its most recent ranking, the National Science Foundation ranked Cal State L.A. as the top baccalaureate institution of Latino science and engineering Ph.D. recipients among all predominantly undergraduate and master’s degree colleges and universities in the continental United States.

Many Cal State L.A. STEM students are like Jameka Jefferson, who dreams of becoming a microbiologist and contributing to her community.

“I like doing research and I want to be part of a community and help build, innovate and educate others,” she recently said during a presentation attended by Covino.

(Photo: Cal State L.A. microbiology student Jameka Jefferson explains her research project to university President William A. Covino and former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Credit: Cal State L.A.)

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