The Coalition for Excellence and Diversity in Mathematics, Science and Engineering is the “Justice League” of programs on campus confronting the problems of underrepresentation in math, science and engineering. The following post is one in a series, kicked off by this introduction, highlighting the work of each of the Coalites and the programs they represent.
If the traditional path to joining the UC Berkeley faculty is a well-traveled, strenuous uphill climb, John Matsui hacked his way up the side of K2 with a machete. “No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve had to create what I wanted to see in education,” he says. Some of the places John has gone, few of his faculty peers have ever been.
“My educational pathway has been anything but a straight line. The way they taught science in high school wasn’t in a way I was able to learn. So I came out disinterested in science and generally unprepared for a four-year college,” says John. So instead he spent three and a half years at community college before transferring to a four-year university. He would go on to earn a Master’s degree in Biology from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara, but during that time he took another unusual detour.
While finishing his dissertation at UC Santa Barbara, John took a teaching position at a local community college. Noticing a glaring lack of support for scientifically-inclined Latino students, John founded a bilingual biology program at the college, despite speaking no Spanish himself. This knack for taking the initiative, for creating, didn’t come naturally to John Matsui. “I’d always been told ‘You can’t. You’re not capable. That’ll never work.’ And I believed them because I was afraid, and I didn’t trust myself. But at some point I started saying ‘No, they’re wrong.’”
Impressed with his vision and his passion for addressing the needs of underserved populations, the Student Learning Center at UC Berkeley hired John to help run their academic programs. His work there grabbed the attention of the Dean of Biology, (now Emeritus) Professor Caroline Kane, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. They recruited John in 1991 to help develop what would become the nationally-renowned Biology Scholars Program (BSP).