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Staff snapshot: Diana Lizarraga, UC Berkeley’s chief NERD

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When you first meet Diana, one thing is immediately intriguing — the name of the program she directs at UC Berkeley, Cal NERDS. The program’s acronym stands for New Experiences for Research and Diversity in Science — a cause Diana is deeply passionate about supporting.

“We are a public university that celebrates all of our students. Making sure that narratives from non-dominant student communities are included is vital to our creativity, which leads to better outcomes and innovation,” she explains. 

Cal NERDS is part of UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity & Inclusion, and Diana’s role is focused on elevating underrepresented voices in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). A key part of this role is championing “TechnoInclusion” — Diana’s own theory, which she defines as the practice of using equity and inclusion strategies via technology to create validating experiences, a positive campus climate and a sense of belonging that connects students to information, activities, opportunities and networks within a campus. 

“TechnoInclusion is a new word, a new theory, and it’s for everybody,” Diana says. “I am hoping universities can start exploring this theory to create TechnoInclusive policies that help students feel welcome and supported in academic digital spaces.”  

Diana leads several programmatic initiatives to support her NERDS. She led the development of star.berkeley.edu, a website devoted to the exploration of UC Berkeley’s STEM fields, including a useful guidebook and inspirational role models. Her STEMinist program provides data science training, coding experience and career preparation for UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students who are female, low-income or from underrepresented minorities. She also partners with UC Berkeley faculty to create opportunities for personalized engagement.

Her approach covers the inspirational as well as the practical: One of her most popular NERDS projects is dream mapping, a process by which students share their dream career goals, then chart a detailed path to achieve them. Students often tell her that they continue to revisit these maps to assess their progress. “What I’ve found most interesting is that almost every map not only includes a specific dream for themselves, but also dreams for helping their family, caregivers or community,” shares Diana.

Diana’s enthusiasm for advancing student success heralds back to her own experience as a woman of color in the STEM fields; as an undergraduate, she earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis in agricultural systems and environment with an emphasis in communications and information sciences. She taught herself how to code to help pay for tuition. When asked about the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11, 2021, Diana says, “I wish when I was growing up I had a chance to participate in this type of celebration.  We need role models for girls to look up to.” Because of this, one of her Cal NERDS initiatives is welcoming local elementary school girls to UC Berkeley labs to witness female scientists in action.

“As someone who was a waitress for nine years, I can say that I am a product of several diversity STEM programs, including MESA, McNair Scholars Program and Hugh Edmondson Pathology Research Internship that helped me strive for better opportunities. I am grateful to them and the UC system,” Diana says.

While her career is focused on helping Berkeley students achieve career and educational goals, Diana is also devoted to furthering her own development. She is pursuing a doctoral degree through the UC Davis Educational Leadership Program. Her goal? To continue to foster and spread the word about TechnoInclusion in order to elevate new generations of diverse STEM scholars. 

Meet Diana

Name: Diana Lizarraga

Job title: Director, E&I STEM Equity & Success; Director, Cal NERDS Programs & Student Center

Department/unit: Division of Equity & Inclusion

Location/campus: UC Berkeley

When did you start working for UC? In 1997 as an undergraduate at UC Davis — and almost 18 years at UC Berkeley

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Amplify NERDy STEM Identities

Why do you love working for UC? Being part of UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity & Inclusion has allowed me to champion equity and inclusion initiatives, while providing a buffet of STEM opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students that celebrates their NERDiness.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I got my ham radio license when I was in college.

Who is one person (living or dead) with whom you’d love to have dinner? California indigenous medicine woman Toypurina (circa 1785). I want to know more about her leadership, courage and resistance.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? If you live your passion, you will never consider it to be work you don’t enjoy. As someone who was a waitress for nine years, this is true for me now. 

Editor’s note: Is there a girl in your life who would benefit from a female STEM role model? Check out these free female scientist role model posters, illustrated by women artists and recommended by Diana.


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