Community Profile: Diana Lizarraga (April 2022)

Diana Lizarraga (she/her/ella), Executive Director of Cal NERDS, Director of E&I STEM Equity & Success, and Educational Leadership Doctoral Student at UC Davis

What does your program, unit, or division do on campus?A person with long dark hair and a mask raising her hands in the Cal NERDS food pantry, in front of well-stocked shelves.

Cal NERDS is creating a diverse STEM workforce by developing a vibrant community of STEM undergraduate and graduate innovators and leaders. Our scholars become professional NERDS in industry, academia, or government. 

Describe your job in five words:

NERDY + Problem Solving + TechnoInclusion + Multitasking + Opportunity

Why Berkeley?

I was recruited to UC Berkeley while working in the Graduate Division at UC Davis through some statewide work I did building a STEM-related website for a statewide project to make information accessible. It was an adventurous opportunity.  I negotiated for specific technology for this role, which included a research poster printer. I knew that this would be a powerful tool to help students present at research conferences. When they agreed to purchase it, I felt like it was a demonstration of their commitment to support students, so I said YES. 

Over your career, what are some of the things that have helped you move to the next level and to new opportunities?

Listening to Students has had a huge impact on my career path, especially their needs. I was constantly making notes of things that would be helpful which led me to create the vision for (STEM Training, Activities, and Resources) website (200+ pages), role model narratives, guidebook (180+ pages). Looking forward to launching phase 2 this year, which includes a faculty engagement opportunity tool to provide an avenue of access for faculty and students to connect more easily, while providing outreach and dissemination grant opportunities. 

Educational Leadership Doctorate Program at UC Davis (aka CANDEL) has helped me explore the work that I do in a deeper capacity, exposed me to interesting theories, and helped me create the theory of TechnoInclusion in 2018. It has provided me with a community of scholarship, talented people, support, and exposure to opportunities. For example, I had just read about LCFF and happened to see a random e-mail about an LCFF grant. So I submitted a grant to create STEMinist - An Intro to Data Science bootcamp, which involved professional development, coding in R, and access to female role models. I was thrilled to receive the grant and the program continues today. Education is something that no one can take away from you, it is never too late to learn.

What is the best advice a mentor has given you in work, life, or beyond?

During community college, my MESA Director Mai-Gemu Johnson told me that “They have to accept somebody, it might as well be you.” With that new mantra, I applied to 10 STEM undergraduate summer research programs and was accepted to six. Getting this research experience changed my life and helped me leave a job as a 9 year career waitress and pivot into the STEM field. This also led me to teach myself how to code to design and build websites, something that I still do today.

What motivates you to do your best work?

I enjoy the opportunity to bring the student voice to the forefront using innovative approaches. Right now we have a team of 18 student directors plus and they are full of ideas, passion, and teamwork. We are fortunate to work with Assistant Director Chris Noble, who is a partner in problem solving and creating welcoming spaces for our STEM community. We want our team to be appreciated, supported, and challenged.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

Weird is not the word I would use, but unexpected and interesting. I used to work at HP’s Customer Intelligent Services, focusing on parts. I had to go through hundreds of customer surveys, often reading about customer frustrations. Analyzing that type of data was fascinating to me because there are so many ways to examine the important narratives (and some imagery) that they were sharing (geographic, technology related, type of complaint, price point, etc.).

What is an interesting or little-known fact about you?

I am originally from Oklahoma.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Work-wise for this semester we are hosting a NERD Prom that is organized by our team of Student Directors. Many students didn’t experience a Prom due to COVID, so we are looking forward to making this happen for our community. For the fall, we are organizing a group of 30+ students to attend an out-of-state STEM research conference.