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CSU to create an immersive tech hub to recruit Latinos, others into STEM fields

A brick sign marks the entrance to Cal State Northridge
A new STEM-focused initiative will launch at Cal State Northridge.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A $50-million technology hub will rise in a parking lot at Cal State Northridge with the goal of dazzling college, high school and middle school students with an immersive experience that shows off the possibilities of STEM studies and careers.

Called the Global Hispanic Serving Institution Equity Innovation Hub, the center will seek to draw Latinos and traditionally underserved students into science, engineering and technology studies. The building is expected to open in 2024, with plans for virtual programming underway.

“It’s almost like the building will come to life with a mobile device in hand,” said Amanda Quintero, special assistant to the Cal State Northridge president for inclusive excellence. She compared the center to an immersive museum experience for students and the community.

“When families enter this space, we want them to be inspired by what they see.” That could mean entering the building to view images of Latino STEM leaders and scanning a QR code for further information or experiencing an exhibit entirely through a mobile device.

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The project will offer a place to visit and a virtual source of ongoing education programs through mentorship opportunities, connections to STEM leaders and employers and access to interdisciplinary STEM research.

The building will house research labs, a maker-space and student showcase area. Plans for online programming are currently underway.

And while the hub will be housed on the Northridge campus, the intention is to engage with those beyond the university, including middle and high school students to introduce them to the idea of becoming a scientist or engineer.

“It has the opportunity to really unleash the talent that exists in every household throughout California and beyond, and I’m hopeful it will inspire more students, especially Latinx students, to consider a career in the STEM fields,” Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro told The Times.

The project was funded through a $25-million allocation in the 2021-22 California state budget and a $25-million donation from Apple. It will work in collaboration with all 23 Cal State campuses and similar hubs across the nation.

The hub will support Cal State’s 2025 graduation initiative, which aims to increase the graduation rate and eliminate equity gaps throughout the system, Castro said.

The graduation rate for four-year first-time students at Cal State is currently 30% and 62% for six-year first-time students. The goal is to increase those rates to 40% and 70%, respectively, by 2025.

Cal State Northridge was selected to house the project because it has the longest track record of serving Latino students within the university system. More than 21,000 of the campus’s roughly 39,000 students enrolled in fall 2021 identified as Latino.

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Cal State Northridge President Erika Beck said the technology hub will give the university another way to connect with other institutions.

“Our goal is to think about the network much more broadly — even beyond CSUN students and students in the CSU,” Beck said.

This is Cal State’s second 2021 partnership with Apple. In July, the university system announced a technology initiative intended to help close the digital divide and relieve financial burden after eight campuses were selected to offer incoming freshmen and transfer students Apple iPads.

Nearly half of all Cal State undergraduate students receive Pell Grants for financial needs and nearly one-third of students are the first in their family to pursue a college degree.


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