Photo: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

Scripps Makes Strides to Increase Diversity, Awarded American Geophysical Union Bridge Program Status

Program helps students overcome barriers to pursuing careers in geosciences

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) awarded Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego status as a partner in the Bridge Program, which has the stated goal of helping university geosciences departments "implement equitable and inclusive practices resulting in diverse representation and an improved culture in graduate education."

The program increases the ability of Scripps Oceanography to provide opportunities and guidance to students from historically marginalized populations who are looking to pursue master’s degrees or PhDs.

At all degree levels, geosciences are the least diverse discipline within STEM fields, and over the last 40 years, research suggests the number of graduating students from underrepresented minorities has been essentially stagnant. With few PhDs awarded to minorities in geosciences, there remains a lack of representation in the faculty who then teach and mentor these students, keeping the pool of diverse applicants small.

“Being an AGU Bridge Partner will help Scripps to tackle some of the challenges that underrepresented minorities face in finding the right geosciences programs,” said Scripps oceanographer Fiammetta Straneo, who led the proposal.

The partnership provides Scripps Oceanography with an additional recruitment tool that will enable it to connect with applicants who may not have otherwise applied. A Bridge Program goal is to enable academic centers to draw students who may not have considered graduate school for reasons ranging from affordability to lack of encouragement from advisors or to their perception of an unwelcoming environment. 

The fact that Scripps Oceanography was selected as a AGU Bridge partner means the institution provided evidence that it could successfully train and mentor minority students through dedicated and intentional inclusive and supportive activities, Straneo said. These activities include improvements in the application process, mentoring programs for faculty, and facilitating the establishment of support networks. There are several other ongoing initiatives led by Scripps Director of Diversity Keiara Auzenne that provide that support, such as the DEEP Connections lecture series that highlights the work of successful scholars from traditionally underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds.

“Retention has been a challenge, and Scripps is working to cultivate a more welcoming and supporting environment with culturally relevant role models,” said Auzenne.

This past year, 54 university-based academic centers applied to become AGU Bridge partners. The AGU selected Scripps along with 14 others. In total there are now 46 Bridge partners across the country.

Auzenne said that for Scripps to maintain its position as a leader in the field, the department must continue to proactively increase diversity, with the AGU partnership also providing a mechanism for reporting and accountability.

Scripps has already demonstrated its commitment to increasing diversity, with an increase in underrepresented minority graduate applicants from 10 to 15 percent in 2020, and an increase in their rate of admission and recruitment, with underrepresented minority graduate students constituting 25 percent of the first-year cohort in fall 2021.

“We are excited at the notion that a more diverse research community will lead to better science, including more focus on science inspired by end-users,” said Straneo.

Besides Straneo and Auzenne, Scripps Oceanography proposal contributors were Lisa Adams, associate chair of the Scripps Oceanography Department and a UC San Diego Changemaker Faculty Fellow, Jennifer MacKinnon, Scripps associate dean for Faculty Equity, and academic coordinator Cheryl Peach, who chairs Scripps Oceanography’s Diversity Advisory Committee.

For more information on the AGU Bridge Program, please visit

Alison Cobb is a research data analyst at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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