Staff Spotlight: Diana L Lizarraga (she/her/hers)

February 14, 2024

Executive Director, Cal NERDS
Director, STEM Equity & Success - Division of Equity & Inclusion

How would you describe Cal NERDS to someone who has never heard about it before?

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

Can you describe your job/role?

My work supports STEM undergraduates and graduate students. It involves running diverse STEM programs, directing a student center, creating STEM initiatives, problem solving, partnering, project management, learning, technology, and a lot of mentoring. I am grateful to have a wonderful team that I partner with to help create change and amplify student support services that are going well. One of our main philosophies is exposure > participation > transformation. 

Sometimes my work takes me out of state, where we have organized trips to STEM research conferences in Puerto Rico and Oregon for example. Traveling with 40-50 students takes a lot of admin and logistics, but we know these experiences are critical for our students’ professional development, sense of belonging, and STEM identity. 

I am also an educational technologist and one of my current projects involves’s new STEM faculty engagement web tool feature, which allows faculty to connect with clubs based on faculty engagement preferences by both parties. Faculty engagement could look like a tour of their research lab, a research presentation, working in a lab, etc. We are problem solving latency issues and caching issues right now, which is taking longer than expected so having patience is key when creating TechnoInclusive new web tools. Ultimately, creating a database of over 1,000 possibilities is a daunting task for our team, but we feel this investment can hopefully help improve STEM student retention rates, especially for non-dominant student communities. provides access to opportunities, resources, activities, and training for STEM communities both on and off campus. Navigating the hidden curriculum of faculty engagement by developing this feature, we hope, will be a win-win on our campus. In addition, mentoring STEM students and STEM administrators is something that I continue to be passionate about.

How long have you been at Berkeley?

I have been at Berkeley for 21 years. 

What do you love most about working here?

100% our students! They bring an energy and innovative spirit that inspires me to do my best work. Experiencing their talents and leadership motivates me to be creative in my mentoring and student support services approaches. We learn from each other and grow together. Supporting them with their STEM career trajectories is something that is deeply meaningful to me.

What's a great day at work look like for you?

A great day for me involves student empowerment in some capacity. One recent example is that I have been mentoring a first generation student who was interested in applying for Engineering fellowships and graduate school programs. We started working on his applications in late spring 2023, meeting regularly during the semester and on the weekends as needed. In mid-January, I got the text that I knew would come from him. This talented student got his first acceptance to an Engineering doctoral program with a fellowship to pay for his graduate degree (the first of many I am sure). He seemed stunned but I knew he could do it all along. Validating students’ goals and supporting their dreams through micro-moments of mentoring, lots of supportive feedback, and emotional support can be transformative when they receive the validation from off-campus PhD programs that recognize their talents. This moment creates generational change related to financial wealth and additional academic opportunities not just for this student but his entire family. This student can now see what I always saw in him, that his potential is unlimited and valuable. That is the best type of day for me and I am fortunate to witness these game changing moments at Cal.

What do you hope will be different in your work this time next year?

I hope to finish up my UC Davis educational leadership doctorate by the end of 2024. My research is on the theory of TechnoInclusion. In addition, I hope to have more admin support.

Where’s your favorite place on campus?

Besides our Cal NERDS Student Center, the view from the top of the campanile can be peaceful and worth the trip up for the view (taking into account the bell chime schedule). I also like spending time near strawberry creek among the trees.

Fun fact about me:

I enjoy baking because it is a form of chemistry. Lately I have been teaching some of the younger kids in my neighborhood some fun baking activities (cake pops, snowman cake, valentine’s day cookies, etc.).

Diana with UC Berkeley group at UC STEM statewide conference hosted by UC Riverside.

Diana with UC Berkeley group at UC STEM statewide conference hosted by UC Riverside. (2024)

Diana L Lizarraga, wearing a black shirt and student Nick Melamed posing with grocery resources in front of them.

Diana Lizarraga with Cal NERDS Student Director & double major in Data Science & Economics, Nick Melamed getting ready to stock the CUBE. During COVID Nick helped with virtual Cal Fresh workshops for undergraduate and graduate students, developed strategies for re-launching our micro-pantry, helped pilot a new fiat justice student effort, and developed a set of workshops on business core competencies. (2023)

Diana L Lizarraga, wearing a pink blazer standing next to Miguel Montalvo, wearing a light gray suit and black tie.

Diana Lizarraga with Cal NERDS Engineering Physics research scholar Miguel Montalvo at a NSF research conference in southern California. (2023). Miguel is now in his first year of his Astronomy & Astrophysics Ph.D. program at Princeton University and was selected for the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Diana with Cal NERDS Research Scholar & Public Health major Ceshia Palos Castellanos

Diana with Cal NERDS Research Scholar & Public Health major Ceshia Palos Castellanos who earned a top UC STEM statewide research award for her community water impact research under CNR's Energy & Resources Group. (2024)

Diana celebrates with Cal NERDS research scholars for their research presentation recognition at a UC STEM statewide conference hosted by UC Riverside

Diana celebrates with Cal NERDS research scholars for their research presentation recognition at a UC STEM statewide conference hosted by UC Riverside.  (2024)