The School of Information has been selected as one of nine recipient schools or departments on the UC Berkeley campus to receive the new Graduate Diversity Pilot Program grant from the Graduate Division. As part of this $1.5 million initiative, the I School will receive $175,000 over four years. Grants are intended to support departments in advancing diversity among their graduate student populations and improving their departmental climates.
The funds will primarily be used to provide fellowship support and co-curricular programming for cohorts of I School Graduate Scholars (ISGS) in the Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) and Ph.D. in Information. Fellowship recipients will be selected on the basis of having overcome challenges in pursuing higher education; having shown leadership in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; and/or planning to do research on topics related to equity in the information sciences. School leadership hopes that the fellowships will aid in the recruitment of students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in higher education.
A portion of the grant will also support I School community events on topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the information sciences. The I School Graduate Scholars will have the opportunity to suggest and influence the topics and structure of these events, providing a school-wide and student-driven platform for discussion and examination of key issues in both academia and the tech industry.
Spearheading the efforts are Professor Steve Weber, Head of School; Professor Jenna Burrell, Faculty Equity Advisor; and Dr. Catherine Cronquist Browning, Assistant Dean for Equity & Inclusion. Browning views the fellowships as a much-needed step on the path toward a more inclusive future for both the School of Information and the tech industry overall.
Currently, the majority of I School graduates will enter a technology sector that is struggling to improve on many diversity-related dimensions and. The I School aims to alter the ecosystem by fostering inclusion and preparing students to continue driving change after graduation as leaders in both private and public sector information technology organizations.
“The I School community has a new sense of urgency in its commitment to improving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” Head of School Weber said, “and this grant from the Graduate Division will help us move forward on some concrete initiatives that will meaningfully accelerate our work.”
Cohort & Community
The initiative will begin with a soft launch this academic year and a full launch in the upcoming admissions recruitment cycle for the next academic year.
The first intention is simply to establish a community of underrepresented students. The students in each year’s cohort will meet monthly for a lunch and discussion series moderated by Professor Burrell to foster a sense of belonging at UC Berkeley and the I School. The monthly meetings are intended to establish a supportive community for diverse students, develop connections to existing campus resources and groups, and enable faster culture change in the school. As the program grows, the ISGS group will continue to include fellows from previous cohorts, building community and an informal mentoring structure.
Assistant Dean Browning said that for many underrepresented students, the I School graduate experience can be difficult because they may lack an affinity community within the department. “With this program,” she said, “we will have the resources to recruit a group of students who not only receive individual support from faculty and staff, but who can also support each other as a community within the school.”
According to Browning, I School Graduate Student Scholars is about the school learning to value and center the perspectives of students who might have been marginalized in the past. Her hope is that the fellowship cohorts will become an important core group in the School and will help bring about not only a more inclusive School of Information, but a more inclusive society for all.