“Diversifying our faculty is inextricably tied to our success in closing equity gaps and increasing graduation rates. I’m encouraged that almost half of the new tenure-track faculty we hired [in 2021] are people of color…and we can do even better than that in the coming years.”
– Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
Newswise — Inspiration works in mysterious ways, but sometimes all it takes is seeing the possibilities in life. As tennis legend and Cal State LA alumna Billie Jean King once said, “You have to see it to be it.” And that’s exactly why Chancellor Joseph Castro has placed diversifying CSU faculty high on his list of priorities.
One way of moving the dial on this is through The California State University Chancellor's Doctoral Incentive Program (CDIP), which prepares promising doctoral students for CSU faculty positions. They receive mentorship from CSU faculty, professional development and grant resources, and if needed, financial support in the form of a forgivable loan. The program aims to recruit future faculty, mostly from among our own undergraduate and graduate programs, and deepen their commitment to educating the most ethnically, economically and academically diverse student body in the nation. Faculty mentors, from campuses across the CSU, are critical to preparing fellows to carry out the CSU mission.
Here are just a few of the CDIP fellows who returned to teach at a CSU campus and are inspiring the next generation.
GABBY MEDINA FALZONE, PH.D. Chico State, Assistant Professor of Multicultural and Gender Studies, CDIP Cohort 2018-’19, Faculty Sponsor from Cal State East Bay
Why do you think having diverse faculty is important? There are things those from historically oppressed communities understand that can’t be taught through a textbook or a journal article. As a queer, Puerto Rican, brown, cis woman who has experienced homelessness and doesn’t know how to speak Spanish, no textbook I ever read really got at my life experiences. Not only do my identities and experiences give me tools to support students from similar backgrounds, but they also help me support students from other oppressed backgrounds by letting them know that even though our experiences with oppression may be different, I can relate to the impact of oppression and will be there to support them on their journey. Having faculty that represents the diversity of the student body can help students feel like they, too, can one day excel in academia or other careers in their field of interest.
Tell me about a time when you were able to help one of your students with their unique needs. One Filipina student, when she was asking me for a letter of recommendation for grad school, told me how she remembered me telling her that one reason there were so few academic articles on Filipinx experiences was because there were still so few Filipinx academics. At the time, I had encouraged her to think about getting into academics to change that. I can’t even tell you how fulfilling it was to write her letter of recommendation a few years later.
What has it been like to return to the CSU as a faculty member? Since I was a San Francisco State undergrad, I’ve wanted to teach at a CSU. I am passionate about helping low-income, first-gen students of color and others from different oppressed communities realize their full potentials. I often tell my students how brilliant they are and that they can go to grad school, law school or other continuing education if they want. I want to be the faculty person for them that I didn’t have.
JOELY PROUDFIT, PH.D. CSU San Marcos, Department Chair of American Indian Studies, CDIP Cohort 1993-’94, Faculty Sponsor from Cal State Long Beach
Tell me about a time when you were able to help one of your students with their unique needs. I have been teaching at the CSU since 1995, at Cal State Long Beach, SFSU, Cal State San Bernardino and now CSUSM, which resides on the traditional territory and homelands of the Luiseño/Payómkawichum people. During this time, I have had the opportunity to engage with hundreds of American Indian and Alaska Native students, assisting them in academic, career and sometimes life choices. I have helped students to move out of homes and situations where domestic violence was occurring, seek sobriety and counseling, dream beyond a four-year degree, move beyond feelings of insecurity and invisibility and seek action and justice. My students have helped pass legislation, become leaders in American Indian public health, grown tribal economies and created innovative strategies and art.
How did the CDIP program change the trajectory of your career? I have cherished the good fortune I have had in my life, from having exclusive dinners with heads of state to serving as a U.S. Presidential appointee, from being appointed as the first Indigenous woman to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls to creating narrative change in Hollywood and beyond. The people and places I have engaged with are a direct result of my education. As a young professor in the late 1990s, I was asked by my tribal community to participate in commercials to educate audiences about Proposition 5: The Tribal Government Gaming and Economic Self-Sufficient Act of 1998. This was the first time a minority population had ever passed a proposition in the United States. Prop 5 allowed for tribal governments in California to operate tribal gaming on tribal lands. This changed the economies and futures of the Tribes California forever. The CDIP program provided the initial investment toward earning my doctorate and providing me with the tools necessary to make the impact for my community and beyond.
What has it been like to return to the CSU as a faculty member? I am blessed to be a Luiseño/Payómkawichum scholar who works, teaches and lives on the traditional territory and homelands of my ancestors, the Luiseño/Payómkawichum people. While I am often recruited and invited to lead other institutions, this is my home and I am investing in the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at CSUSM and building the most robust American Indian Studies department for our students and community.
WINNY DONG, PH.D.
Cal Poly Pomona, Professor and Director of Projects & Research, College of Engineering, CDIP Cohort 1995-’00, Faculty Sponsor from Cal State Long Beach
Tell me about a time in your life when you were impacted by having a faculty member who looked like you or had similar life experiences. My father was a professor in mechanical engineering at CSULB for about 30 years. He was definitely my inspiration to teach at a CSU. I saw that he enjoyed his job and built strong relationships with his students—both of those things made me think that teaching at a CSU was something I wanted to pursue. He was also the person who made me aware of the CDIP opportunity and really encouraged me after I got my Ph.D. to apply for teaching positions. Other mentors at CPP, who all played important roles in my career, are Drs. Debra Brum and Cordelia Ontiveros. They encouraged me and advocated for me but more importantly, they made me feel like I could talk to them about my concerns and didn't have to hide what I was feeling. Having female role models and mentors helped me feel less alone in engineering and that CPP was the right place for me to succeed.
Tell me about a time when you were able to help one of your students with their unique needs. I have had students who told me they feel they can tell me certain things because of my race or gender. But I've also had students who confided in me who are very different from me outwardly. I think my strength as a mentor comes from being a patient listener and asking students questions about their motivation, fears and aspirations. But I do know that I am not the right mentor for every student. Some students need role models with different life experiences than I've had, so I think it is really important for the university to have a diversity of faculty members with different backgrounds so every student can have the opportunity to find the mentor who is right for them.
BRANDILYNN J. VILLARREAL, PH.D. Humboldt State, Assistant Professor of Psychology, CDIP Cohort 2010-’11, Faculty Sponsor from CSU Dominguez Hills
Tell me about a time in your life when you were impacted by having a faculty member who looked like you or had similar life experiences. I attended a UC for my undergraduate and there were fewer faculty and students at that time who looked like me. When I attended a master’s program at a CSU, I was ecstatic to interact with faculty and students from more diverse backgrounds. It felt like home and I never wanted to leave. The faculty in the Psychology Department at CSU Dominguez Hills were incredible mentors and helped me immensely with continuing on to a Ph.D. program.
Tell me about a time when you were able to help one of your students with their unique needs because you could relate to them on a deep level. I am a multi-ethnic individual and a member of the LGBTQIA community. Because I share my identities with students, this creates opportunities for them to connect and relate to me on a deeper level. I know how much it meant to me to have an educator and role model identify as Latinx or queer, and now that I am in this position, students communicate what it means to them. One student in particular started a conversation during office hours because she was grateful I had a picture of two women as a couple when talking about romantic relationships in young adulthood. This was the first time she had seen visual representation and validation of her identity and relationship in a class. This facilitated a bond with the student, and we had several more conversations. She also joined my research group.
How did CDIP change the trajectory of your career? It allowed me to pursue my goal of teaching at a CSU by helping me prepare for this goal early. I knew the summer I entered my Ph.D. program that I would be working toward this goal and it provided the extra motivation and resources to succeed.
Why do you think having faculty who are diverse is important? It is incredibly important for the faculty and staff demographics at the CSU to match that of the student population. Students benefit from positive role models, feel a greater connection to the university/department and strengthen their academic identities when they are represented by faculty, staff and administration at their institution. The student body at the CSU is incredibly diverse, yet nationwide approximately 70 percent of faculty are white.
OCTAVIO VILLALPANDO, PH.D. Cal State LA, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Student Life, CDIP Cohort 1993-’94, Faculty Sponsor from CSUN
Tell me about a time in your life when you were impacted by having a faculty member who looked like you or had similar life experiences. I took a class as a master’s student at CSUN, and a Chicano professor pulled me aside and said, ‘Have you thought about getting a Ph.D. and entering an academic career? It’s not as challenging as you might expect.’ As a first-generation student, I never saw myself entering that space until then. It allowed me to meet some of the goals I had, which is to give back to my community. The greatest impact in my career has come from faculty of color and faculty who share similar life experiences as me—what it's like to grow up in a working class family without having any aspirations to pursue a doctoral degree. Faculty of color have been essential to my ability to see this career path as a reality.
Why do you think it's important to have diverse faculty? At the turn of the 19th century, we saw this growing number of colleges for women; they went out and specifically recruited women to teach in those universities. The idea behind that was there was a shared experience that women would be able to understand. The same is true for students of color. If we see ourselves represented by a professor who brings material into the learning process that’s based on their own lived experience, it brings multiple perspectives into their classroom. It only enriches the educational experience for students. There's a difference when you have students who can identify culturally, ethnically, racially or by gender with faculty who bring a different life experience into the classroom.
What has it been like to come back to the CSU as a faculty member? The majority of our students are working class who have very high educational aspirations. To me, that’s what it's about because they represent my life experience. I spent almost 20 years at a research institution, publishing and introducing all sorts of theoretical concepts. I have had my research cited by the U.S. Supreme Court as evidence for maintaining affirmative action in the admissions process. But nothing comes close to the opportunity of being able to see students from local communities who never imagined themselves in college succeeding and thriving at an institution like ours.
SIX FACTS ABOUT CDIP
It is the largest program of its kind in the U.S.
CDIP offers monthly programs to help fellows learn about the academic job market and publishing.
Doctoral candidates are linked with a mentor who will guide them through their doctoral program and to their professional career.
Fellows have the opportunity to use grant funds to further their doctoral training and attend professional conferences and workshops.
The PRE-Professor Program (PREPP) supports CDIP Fellows’ transition to faculty positions by engaging them in a semester-long program at a CSU campus.
An annual CDIP directory is circulated among campuses that includes information on fellows seeking CSU faculty appointments.
Find out more about the opportunities the CSU’s CDIP provides.