RIVERSIDE, CA - UC Riverside College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) faculty members were among the dozens of faculty, government and industry professionals who presented at a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) event highlighting opportunities to build pathways to upward mobility and success for students to thrive within the American workforce.
Hosted by UC Riverside and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Justice and Equity, DOE To The People is an on-campus event designed to develop partnerships at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) focusing on cultivating the next generation of STEM professionals. Attendees listened to presentations and panels of STEM and clean energy leaders discuss the future of STEM through industry partnerships, strategies to support MSI faculty, students and community members, and research opportunities with the DOE for MSI students and industry professionals.
The event also featured a career fair with DOE laboratories, staff and program offices, plus industry and MSI representatives, who engaged in one-on-one conversations about career paths and funding opportunities with UC Riverside students.
"We are a center that has great potential," said Kim A. Wilcox, Chancellor of UC Riverside. "Today is about learning about each other, and what we can do to make our future brighter."
Jennifer Graholm, Secretary of Energy, described DOE To The People as an important chance to create opportunities and access for students interested in pursuing careers in the energy field.
"The lack of diversity in this space is not reflective of a talent deficiency, it's an opportunity deficiency," said Secretary Granholm in her keynote address. "I am so optimistic about the power and potential of MSIs to build the future of America's STEM workforce. Together, we will make sure that every American who wants to sit at the clean energy table has that opportunity."
Shalanda Baker, Director of the Office of Energy Justices & Equity (EJE) for the Department of Energy, spoke about the importance of developing novel solutions to energy-related issues, such climate change, wildfires, and a lack of access to life-saving power in California.
"We need the best and brightest minds to tackle, what I think, are true energy justice issues," said Baker. "Our partnership will start today...we're looking forward to promoting excellence through our conversations, beginning a collaboration to cutting-edge research, and initiating projects that are going to transform our communities.
Rodolfo Torres, Vice Chancellor for Research & Economic Development and Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, participated in a fireside chat about energy and its impact on the environment, where he praised UC Riverside for taking a different view of excellence. "We see excellence in a different way," he said. "We see excellence in terms of social mobility, and in the way that we can make sure all of the fantastic discoveries that we make in our labs extends not only locally, but nationally and globally."
As an example of the university's commitment to social mobility, Vice Chancellor Torres cited two new entrepreneur training certificate programs, in Modern Agriculture and Sustainable Transportation, hosted at UC Riverside that are free and open to the public. Such programs, according to Torres, are critical for training students for energy-related fields that have undergone rapid change in recent years.
"We need to work with industry, we need to work with local government...we need to work more to diversify the workforce in STEM," said Torres. "We've got to move away from traditional forms of training to train the individuals who will work in these new industries."
Vice Chancellor Torres also cited the importance of taking a global-local approach to energy challenges. "On the national level, the U.S. needs to regain its leadership and research and innovation...we cannot take it for granted any more," he explained. "The U.S. needs to continue to strengthen its position as a leader, and to collaborate with other countries. We need very strong international regulation and scientific policy by which we can work together...this should include not only the richest nations, but also the poorest."
Estela Gavosto, Acting Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), spoke about how minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are overcoming barriers in energy research and workforce challenges, including UC Riverside's Seal of Excelencia certification from the new Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities.
"To get that certification, we had to show that UC Riverside is intentionally accelerating the success of Hispanic students," explained Gavosto "What we do is with the intention of seeing our students not only have access to STEM areas, but to keep their cultural identity...they're not giving up their community, but continuing to be an integral part of their community while at the same time being scientists, researchers, and leaders."
Acting Vice Chancellor Gavosto also stressed the need to reimagine the STEM pipeline for future generations of students. "We don't have many women in the pipeline, we don't have many people of color in the pipeline," said Gavosto. "We should talk about many different pathways [in STEM], the many ways of coming in and out of the pipeline."
Mike McKibben, Associate Professor Emeritus of Geology, also spoke about research and funding opportunities with the DOE for MSIs and the social impact of key materials for possible designation as critical minerals. A DOE grant enabled Professor McKibben and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists to quantitatively assess and characterize the abundant geothermal resources beneath the Salton Sea to develop a secure supply chain of lithium for storage and electric vehicle batteries within the U.S.
"We need to bring supply chains for critical minerals home and make them domestic, because we shouldn't be relaying on foreign sources of such essential minerals," said McKibben.
Of his current Salton Sea project, Professor McKibben added, "California could become the most significant producer of lithium in the world."
A geochemist and economic geologist who studies mineral and energy resources at CNAS, Professor McKibben served as Dean of Student Affairs from 2009-2018, overseeing 6000 students within CNAS' 13 majors. He also served as chair of the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences from 2019-2021. Professor McKibben retired in 2021, but was recalled as a part-time UCR Research Professor in 2022 to work on assessing Salton Sea geothermal lithium resources with colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
In addition to serving as Acting Vice Chancellor for DEI, Active Vice Chancellor Galvosto is a Professor of Teaching in the Department of Mathematics at UC Riverside. She developed her interest in mathematics during high school at the Instituto Polytecnico Superior in Rosario, Argentina. After graduating with her degree, Gavosto completed her Ph.D. in Mathematics at Washington University in St. Louis and continued on to postdoctoral positions at Princeton and the University of Michigan.
As Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development, Professor Torres provides executive leadership for campus-wide research initiatives, and is responsible for managing a diverse portfolio of research and economic development activities in coordination with the region, state, and external partners via technology transfer, the commercialization of intellectual property, and entrepreneurship. Vice Chancellor Torres did his undergraduate studies at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Argentina, received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis, and held postdoctoral positions at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University and the University of Michigan. Torres was also University Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas before joining UC Riverside.
According to Secretary Granholm, DOE To The People is about partnering with MSIs to advance energy justice by ensuring that historically underrepresented communities have the opportunity to fully participate in DOE programming.
"At DOE, we are committed to increasing diversity in STEM and non-STEM admissions at research institutions to create a diverse pipeline for DOE labs," Secretary Granholm said in a statement. "DOE is helping undergraduate and graduate students 'jump-start' their careers and develop their potential for future opportunities within the federal government."