April CastaĂ±edaâ€”who recently stepped into the newly created position of assistant vice president for equity and equity investigations and Title IX coordinator at Caltechâ€”is charged with designing and implementing a comprehensive approach to all issues pertaining to discrimination, unlawful harassment, and sexual misconduct. Though the role is new for both the Institute and CastaĂ±eda, she is no stranger to 1200 East California Boulevard, having served in a variety of roles at Caltech (in the provost's and president's offices, as well as Human Resources) for more than 20 years before a recent two-year stint as the assistant director for human resources at JPL.
The office now includes not just Title IX [a law that covers discrimination on the basis of sex] but also Title VII and Title VI. Title VII covers discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VI is the same thing but applies to federal contractors. And because we take federal money, that applies to us as well. We also have state regulations, and California has about 40 different protected classes. So anything that involves a protected class comes into this office.
Although the office is now part of HR, we maintain very close connections with Student Affairs, working closely with the vice president, the deans and the many other offices that serve our students. We're also in the process of hiring an education and deputy Title IX coordinator for Student Affairs to ensure that the needs of the student community are met. The office deals with all constituents, so that's staff, faculty, postdocs, and studentsâ€”both grad and undergrad.
For us, especially with the size of Caltech, it makes a lot of sense to create one equity office. There were times in the past where people had to figure out, "Where do I go? OK, I feel like it's discrimination. Is it sex discrimination? Is it race? If it's sex discrimination, I have to go to this office; if it's race, I go to that office." Whereas here, all you have to know is, "OK, that's the office that I go to if any discrimination or harassment or sexual misconduct happens."
I also think the combination of HR and Student Affairs is really powerful. We get to see all the different constituents, so we learn how they're all experiencing itâ€”from the faculty side to the student side to the staff side to postdocsâ€”making our investigations, outcomes, and solutions stronger.
We also have a lead investigator [a new position], Brian Quillen, who is focused on the equity office model and dedicated to it and has that expertise. That's a real strength because one of the things that we find is that with Title IX, the laws change, the regulations change. ... It's a burgeoning field. Having a lead investigator who is keeping up on those changes makes for a really strong program.
And as I said, we're also hiring a full-time community educator who will do preventative outreach. That person will be in the residences, working with grads and undergrads, getting to know the students, really understanding the culture.
My whole career has been spent talking to people about difficult things. My approach is always that it is a privilege to be there in a person's life at a moment when they really need help, so I try to handle it with care and respect.
We also want to make this process as easy and as approachable as possible, as well as being impartial and fair. Having good investigations brings closure for people. When something happens in a community, the only way that you can become resilient is to feel like you had a fair process, it got closed, and now you are able to move on.
Some people come in and say, "I need an investigation. I want to get down to what happened, I want the fact-finding part." And we provide that. But it doesn't always reach the level of an investigation. And then there are lots of people who just come in for consultation. I tell people before we start, if you want to just tell me what happened, I'm happy to do that, too. And then they might come back later and be ready to share names.
The nice thing about Title IX is that the person who's reporting the incident has a lot of ability to dictate what happens. They often can come in and file a report without us taking action. I follow where they lead. That said, there are things we have to move on if we feel like there's a danger to a community or to themselves.
I have done so many things in my life that really mesh well with this role, so I feel like I'm bringing all those different pieces of me into this job. When I was in grad school at USC [where CastaĂ±eda earned a master's degree in social work], I did my internship here in Caltech's Staff and Faculty Consultation Center. They asked me to stay on, and I worked full-time, but they let me work four 10-hour days, so that left me a day a week and the weekends to do trauma consulting. I then became a diversity liaison under David Baltimore, when he was president. From there, I came into HR as the head of staff education and development, and ultimately became executive director of Human Resources. About two and a half years ago, JPL asked me to come over there as assistant director of Human Resources to work on building communication and getting the different branches of HR to all grow in the same direction.
I'll know it's successful if the number of our cases goes down and the number of our office visits goes up. I want people to come in before things escalate. Absolutely there are times where we need to do an investigation, but there are also lots of things that we can do to build inclusive communities. We want people to worry about school, work, their research, winning Nobel Prizes. ... We don't want them to worry about, "Am I safe? Am I OK?"
We've heard lots of feedback from people that they find our policy really daunting. It's a 25-page policy with lots and lots of process. It's a solid policy, with everything you could ever want in a policy. But when you're in a crisis, you don't want to have to sit down and read a 25-page legal policy. So, making guidelines that are easier to read and updating the language so that it's clear, concise, and relatable is really important.
Another goal is setting clear communication standards for what the equity office and Title IX is, so people really understand who we are. That involves changing everything from the look and feel of the Title IX website to how we engage the community.
We're also using data to inform our work and our practices. We're looking at the numbers of visits, the kinds of things people are coming in for. It's so important to have data so that you can really look and see what's happening without being prejudiced by your emotion.
I've spent most of my career doing things that are engaged around social justice. It's important to me that people have the rights and the ability to do good work.
When I first came to Caltech, I was reluctant to be an intern here because before then I had always worked with underserved populations, and here I saw a lot of privilege. My adviser at the time said to me, "April, pain is pain, no matter if it's in a suit or on the street." And she said, "You have to decide. If you're trying to alleviate pain and help good things happen, there's a place for you here."
But I also do this kind of work for my 10-year-old daughter. Because what we do here sets precedent, and it changes how other people will experience college and education and work.
Anneila Sargent (MS '67, PhD '78), Caltech's Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, has made a gift to establish the Wallace L. W. Sargent Fellowship. With this fellowship, she is supporting tomorrow's scientists and engineers while also honoring her late husband. Wallace "Wal" Sargent, former Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy, served on the Caltech faculty from 1966 until his death in 2012.
Read more on the Break ThroughÂ campaign website.
Postdoctoral Scholars contribute mightily to research on campus and to Caltech's standing in the world. More than 600 postdocs are on campus this year, spread across all six divisions. They make their influence felt across the academic enterprise, carrying out experiments, devising theories, mentoring students, setting intellectual directions, and conveying the power of science to the general public. Caltech postdocs have made scientific and technological contributions at the highest levels, garnering, for example, 14 Nobel Prizes and 14 National Medals of Science over the years.Â
The start of National Postdoc Appreciation Week is a most appropriate time to recognize the unsung heroes in our midst. To that end, the Institute recently created a central postdoctoral office to supplement the support provided in the divisions. We are also buttressing career placement services in order to make sure that our postdocs are well-positioned to maximize their impact on society as they move on to the next stages of their careers.
Caltech's mission of world-leading research and education depends crucially on our postdoctoral scholars. Although their time at Caltech may be short, they quickly become vital parts of the Institute's intellectual fabric. In the words of Herman Hesse:Â "Where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home for a time." A heartfelt thank you to the Caltech Postdoc Association for your partnership and to all our postdoctoral scholars for making Caltech home.
To celebrate the work of its postdoctoral scholars, Caltech will mark National Postdoc Appreciation Week from September 17â€“21 with events including divisional town hall meetings, social mixers, career discussions, and a raffle for Amazon gift cards.
Initiated by the National Postdoctoral Association in 2009, the annual event recognizes the contributions that postdocs make to research and discovery worldwide. TheÂ Caltech Postdoc AssociationÂ (CPA)â€”which advocates on behalf of the postdoc community and seeks to boost professional and personal developmentopportunitiesâ€”has hosted events marking the occasion previously, but this year the organization is boosting the size, number, and coordination of events campus-wide to underscore the contributions postdocs make.
The weeklong event mirrors new Institute-wide efforts to provide more coordinated services that will support postdocs. Earlier this year, Caltech established theÂ Postdoctoral Scholars OfficeÂ (PSO)â€”overseen by Vice Provost Kaushik Bhattacharyaâ€”to represent postdocs' interests. It also established the Postdoctoral Studies Committeeâ€”made up of members from the PSO, faculty representatives from each division, the CPA, and Human Resourcesâ€”to propose recommendations for improving the postdoc experience at Caltech.
CPA chair Sreeram Balasubramanian,Â a postdoctoral scholar in biology and biological engineering, notes that postdocsÂ "represent a unique part of the Caltech community. They are scholars who play an invaluable role in Caltech's research enterprise by primarily engaging in research activities as part of their continued training post-graduation to help prepare for their chosen career paths." Moreover, most postdocs mentor graduate and undergraduate students: "That's an important service that most postdocs provide while pursuing their research endeavors."
Bhattacharya says thatÂ Caltech has about 700 postdocs working on campus at any given time, making its postdoc-to-student ratio as much as four times higher than peer institutions. This is why they play an "especially vital" role in research at the Institute, he says.
"The success of our alumni scholars is a critical part of our impact," Bhattacharya adds. "However, since postdoctoral scholars are deeply immersed in their research and identified with individual laboratories, they do not always feel integrated with the larger Caltech community.Â The Postdoctoral Scholars Office and the Postdoctoral Studies Committee seek to address their needs at the Institute and to enable them to succeed. National Postdoc Appreciation Week is an important opportunity to recognize this dedicated and talented group of scholars, and to acknowledge their contributions to the Institute."
In aÂ letter to the campus communityÂ on September 17, the first day of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, President Thomas Rosenbaum highlighted the crucial work of postdocs, noting that "Caltech's mission of world-leading research and education depends crucially on our postdoctoral scholars. Although their time at Caltech may be short, they quickly become vital parts of the Institute's intellectual fabric."
For National Postdoc Appreciation Week,Â Balasubramanian says,the CPA aims to "increase awareness for postdocs, inform our postdocs about various campus resources, and facilitate interactions within the community."
In collaboration with the Office of the Provost as well as the Institute's divisions and itsÂ campus partners, the CPA will host Appreciation Week activities that include free morning coffee and informational booths, town hall meetings focusing on postdocs' needs and concerns, an ice cream social, a tech-and-industry mixer, reflections and advice from postdoc alumni, and an opportunity to get free professional headshots.
More information on the week's schedule of events can be foundÂ here.Â
Caltech Athletics celebrated the reopening of the Institute's newly renovated Fox Stanton Track on Thursday, August 15.
The track, located on Caltech's South Field, had been closed for nearly a month for renovations to upgrade the surface and improve athletes' safety. Betsy Mitchell, director of athletics, physical education and recreation, says, "The surface was dry, brittle, and literally cracking apart."
The new polyurethane surface is now softer and safer for athletes, she notes, and it is also bright orangeâ€”a shade shared by only two other tracks in the United States, and the only one of its kind in higher education.
After a brief opening speech by Mitchell, the students, faculty, and community members in attendance took a commemorative first lap to celebrate the renovations. Runners stopped a few meters from the finish line to wait for those who chose to walk the new track, and everyone crossed the finish line together.
The Fox Stanton Track is named in memory of William L. "Fox" Stanton (1874-1946), who was Caltech's athletics director and coach of the Institute's football, cross country, and track andÂ field teams from 1921 to 1941. He was inducted into the Caltech Athletics Hall of Honor earlier this year. His son, W. Layton Stanton (BS '27, PhD '31), helped raise funds for the original track back in 1986.
Working in a Caltech chemical engineering lab this summer, Maggie Higginbotham spends a lot of her time coaxing bacteria to make extremely small bags of gas that can be used to improve the diagnostic abilities of ultrasound equipment.
While that task may be fairly routine for the faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates in the lab, it's a brand-new experience for Higginbotham: she's still in high school.
Higginbotham, a 10th-grade student at Blair High School in Pasadena, is one of 22 local high school studentsâ€”and three teachersâ€”participating in Caltech's Summer Research Connection (SRC). The six-week program brings high school students and teachers to campus to conduct research in a dozen labs in fields ranging from chemistry, physics, and materials science to chemical engineering, astronomy, and planetary science.
After several weeks in the program, Higginbotham says working as a member of the research team "has been a fantastic experience that's allowed me to see what doing research is really like. I've learned how to use the tools and how to handle myself in a lab."
And that is precisely the point of the program, according to Mitch Aiken, associate director for educational outreach for the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach, which runs the program each summer.
Aiken says the goal of the program is threefold: to provide graduate students and postdocs with the opportunity to practice mentoring, teaching, and polishing their scientific communications skills; to offer Kâ€“12 teachers opportunities to learn techniques that they can take back to their classrooms; and to give local high school students firsthand exposure to how research is conducted at the university level. "SRC also provides an avenue for many researchers on campus to engage in community outreach and meet a key component of the Broader Impacts fulfillment requirement of National Science Foundation grants," Aiken says.
Working for 20 hours a week in the lab of Mikhail G. Shapiro, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Higginbotham joined Marshall High School student Thomas Scott as well as Garrett Gibson, a teacher from Environmental Charter Middle School in Gardena. The team's work focuses on growing flasks of bacteria and archaea that produce gas vesiclesâ€”air-filled protein structures that the cells normally use as flotation devices. The Shapiro lab is developing the vesicles as imaging agents for ultrasound, making it possible for this imaging technology to visualize specific cells and molecules in the body.
In the lab, Higginbotham and Gibson work under the mentorship of research technician Dina Malounda, who has been teaching them proper lab techniques such as purifying gas vesicles from bacteria that will be used by other scientists in the lab for their experiments.
Malounda says SRC provides "a rare opportunity for high school students and Kâ€“12 teachers to witness and experience the atmosphere in an actual scientific research laboratory â€¦ and to interact with scientists."
Higginbotham and Gibson say they are learning a great deal about the process of conducting research by participating in regular lab discussions where all of the group's members pitch ideas, talk about their projects and goals, and ask questions about each other's work.
"I love asking questions," Higginbotham says. "It's always great when you can ask questions and learn."
Gibson praised SRC as intellectually rigorous and rewarding for teachers like himself and added that it greatly helps to "demystify research for students. Going from being an undergraduate to a PhD student is a big leap, but it's not impossible. Having an experience like this can make it much less scary for them."
The program culminates with a seminar day on August 10, when student-teacher-mentor teams from the various campus labs will explain their work to their peers and invited guests during formal 10-minute presentations followed by question-and-answer periods.
After being involved in her lab's weekly meetings, Higginbotham says she feels well prepared for her presentation: "I've seen how to present ideas at meetings and now know how to set up our information and explain it."
Shapiro says the program also serves a crucial function as a channel for "investing in future PhD students. Research relies on young, ambitious people, and this can help us encourage them to become scientists."
SRC is one of several programs for youth running on campus this summer, including iD Tech Camps, Alexa CafĂ©, Project Scientist, Community Science Academy, Da Vinci Camp, STEAM:CODERS, Education Unlimited, and Pathways to STEM Cell Science. More than 300 students, ranging from preschoolers to high school seniors are on campus on the days when all camps and programs are in session.
Caltech's Board of Trustees, gathering for a meeting this week, has recently welcomed new members from the fields of investment and energy.
Li Lu, founder and chairman of Himalaya Capital, and Pedro J. Pizarro, president and chief executive officer of Edison International, were elected to the Board in recent months. In total, the Board is composed of 44 trustees, 26 senior trustees, 21 life members, and one honorary life member.
Li Lu, the founder and chairman of Himalaya Capital, a multibillion-dollar firm focused on long-term investments in Asia and the United States, has been elected to the Institute's Board of Trustees.
Born in Tangshan, China, Li was among the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, an experience he recounted in the 1990 memoir Moving the Mountain: My Life in China from the Cultural Revolution to Tiananmen Square.
After escaping from China, he enrolled at Columbia University, where he completed three degree programs simultaneously: a bachelor's degree in economics, a JD from Columbia Law School, and an MBA from Columbia Business School.
It was at Columbia in 1993 that Li was introduced to the investment field through a lecture by Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett. Li went on to found Himalaya Capital in 1997 after graduation.
Li, who also serves on Columbia's Board of Trustees, is a past recipient of the John Jay Award from Columbia College, the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Award from the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, and the Reebok Human Rights Award. He is featured in the National Museum of American History's Family of Voices online exhibit.
Li is one of two individuals to have joined Caltech's governing body in recent months. The Board is led by David L. Lee (PhD '74), chair, and Ronald K. Linde (MS '62, PhD '64), vice chair. It is currently composed of 44 trustees, 26 senior trustees, 21 life members, and one honorary life member.
He recently discussed the values that drive his work and what he admires about Caltech.
First, define your own circle of competence with intellectual honesty. You have to know what you don't know to determine what you know. Second, have the highest degree of fiduciary duty and imagine that every dollar you take from a client is coming from your own middle-class parents who are entrusting their life savings to you.
The quest for truth, both in work and in life. As Caltech's motto states, "The truth shall make you free."
Many people know the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and its affiliation with NASA, but fewer people know that JPL is managed by Caltech. This is a wonderful facility with a group of brilliant minds who innovate across planetary exploration, Earth science, space-based astronomy, and technology development.
I also wish more people understood Caltech's global impact. For example, the famous Chinese rocket scientist Qian Xuesen (PhD '39) helped establish JPL and conducted important work on campus as an assistant professor of aeronautics (1943â€“1946) and as the Robert H. Goddard Professor of Jet Propulsion (1949â€“1955). After returning to China, he made significant contributions to the Chinese missile and space programs.
Pedro J. Pizarro (PhD '94), president and chief executive officer of Edison International, has been elected to the Institute's Board of Trustees.
Pizarro, who spent his early years in Puerto Rico and now calls Pasadena home, earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Harvard University. After completing doctoral studies at Caltech, also in chemistry, he worked with the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, advising energy, technology, engineering, and banking clients.
He joined Edison International in 1999.
Pizarro has served in a number of leadership roles at the company, including as president of Southern California Edisonâ€”one of the nation's largest electric utilitiesâ€”from 2014 to 2016.
In addition to Caltech's Board of Trustees, Pizarro also serves on the boards of Argonne National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the Edison Electric Institute.
He is one of two individuals to have joined Caltech's governing body in recent months. The Board is led by David L. Lee (PhD '74), chair, and Ronald K. Linde (MS '62, PhD '64), vice chair. It is currently composed of 44 trustees, 26 senior trustees, 21 life members, and one honorary life member.
Pizarro recently reflected on his career in energy and his connection to Caltech.
I was interested in science from a young age and started Harvard as a premed student. However, midway through college I realized I enjoyed more quantitative physical sciences and decided to instead pursue a PhD in chemistry (chemical physics). I started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then transferred after one year to Caltech in order to follow my then girlfriendâ€”now my wife of 29 years, Monica Kohler (PhD '95), Caltech research professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Upon completing my PhD, I declined a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at MIT to become a management consultant at McKinsey. I was attracted to business by its potential for large-scale impact and its emphasis on teamwork. Then, after nearly six years, I was recruited by one of my clients, Edison International. Similarly, I was attracted by the broad impact of electric power across society. We power our portion of the world's fifth largest economy and are a key force behind California's ambitions to address climate change through greenhouse gas reduction. I was fortunate to take on different executive roles across the business every few years and even more fortunate to be named CEO in 2016.
I enjoy my work, in particular our Edison team's sense of societal mission and public service within an innovative Fortune 250 company. That said, my true love is spending time with my family. Other fun activities include running 20 miles a week to keep myself healthy and sane, and the occasional day (perhaps once every three or four months) when I can make dough and sauces from scratch, fire up our wood oven to 800 degrees, and bake Neapolitan pizzas.
I was first drawn to Caltech by its world-class graduate programâ€”and, as I noted above, by my wife (then girlfriend) deciding to attend. I appreciate Caltech's innovation, excellence, and unique ability to stimulate collaboration among scientists across different fields.
Catastrophe can be the mother of invention. That's why Caltech trustee Brad Jones feels optimistic in the face of climate change. Throughout history, according to the Manhattan Beachâ€“based venture capitalist, people have solved major challenges by inventing things.
To that end, Jones has pledged $5 million to Caltech. Part of his gift endows the G. Bradford Jones Professorship, which Caltech's president and provost initially will use to support or recruit a top environmental scientist or engineer.
Looking forward, Jones says: "Efforts to decrease carbon emissions help, but not enough. I think we need new technologies that capture carbon to manage global warming. That's the kind of challenge that warrants the attention of people as smart as those at Caltech."
But he has an even broader vision for benefiting humanity. After 15 years, by his design, Caltech leaders will award the professorship in any field where breakthroughs can make a difference for the world.
In addition to the professorship, his pledge will create two G. Bradford Jones Fellowships, supporting graduate students in any discipline.