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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Felisha Herrera Villarreal Felisha Herrera Villarreal

Professor Joins National Alliance to Bolster Latinx STEM Inclusion

Felisha Herrera Villarreal will serve as co-principal investigator for the NSF-funded effort.
By Michael Klitzing

San Diego State University’s Felisha Herrera Villarreal is part of a major push funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to increase representation among Latinx students in STEM education.

The agency recently announced a $50 million investment to create five new NSF INCLUDES Alliances: multi-institutional collaborative partnerships across the public, private and academic sectors aimed at broadening access for underrepresented groups to science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.
Herrera Villarreal, an associate professor of postsecondary education and director of the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute at SDSU, will serve as co-principal investigator for the ALRISE Alliance, which will focus on STEM participation and retention among Latinx students at more than two dozen Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and emerging HSIs across the U.S.

“Bringing together these institutions from across the nation for this groundbreaking collaborative action is really exciting,” said Herrera Villarreal, who will lead the ALRISE research and evaluation team.
“San Diego State has been at the forefront of strengthening HSI STEM pathways,” she added. “We've built our regional partnerships and collaborative initiatives here in the San Diego and Imperial Valley area and I think there will be a lot of synergy between those advances and the efforts of the larger alliance.”

More than 26 institutions will partner in ALRISE, which will operate out of Arizona State University. The majority of participants are community colleges in California, Texas and the Southwest.

The project aims to promote equity-driven campus environments, change harmful institutional mindsets that impact Latinx students and create a bridge to experiential opportunities through STEM industry and community partners. The hope is that these changes can help fix a leaky pipeline that currently sees Latinx professionals underrepresented in STEM careers.

“This work is very intentional,” Herrera Villarreal said. “A big piece of what we’re doing is fostering cultures of inclusivity by establishing a shared vision for the alliance that is really focused on culturally responsive, culturally relevant and culturally affirming practices. We’re infusing that into everything that we do.”

Herself a community college graduate and first-generation college student, Herrera Villarreal is a pathbreaking leader in broadening participation in STEM for underrepresented community college students. She’s currently principal investigator on a separate five-year $1.5 million NSF grant focused on STEM transitions, experiences and mobility among students at HSIs.

“I’ve been working on large-scale NSF-funded efforts since 2009, pushing for greater emphasis on community college pathways for minoritized and historically underrepresented students in STEM,” she said. “It’s great to see this come together in a more collaborative way that's focused on bringing this work to scale and making a larger impact.”