Digital NEST founder Jacob Martinez, chemistry teacher Michael Morgan, and astrophysicist Risa Wechsler are being honored by the UC Santa Cruz Division of Physical and Biological Sciences (PBSci) as the recipients of the PBSci Distinguished Alumni Awards.
The division established the awards to honor graduates of the division who have gone on to extraordinary accomplishments in diverse fields and whose careers are characterized by sustained and exemplary contributions to society through research, practice, education, policy, or service.
In 2014, Jacob Martinez founded Digital NEST, a technology workforce development hub providing youth in rural communities with high-demand technology skills, mentoring, and hands-on experience so they can secure well-paying jobs. Serving predominantly Latinx youth in Salinas and Watsonville, Digital NEST has connected more than 2,500 vulnerable youth to digital technology, skill-based training programs, and a transformative community of mentors and advocates.
Martinez earned his B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC in 2005. Before founding Digital NEST, he spent nearly 10 years running a successful program funded by the National Science Foundation encouraging underrepresented Latina girls to study computer science. The program was instituted throughout the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and eventually expanded to include boys. Martinez received the James Irvine Foundation “Leadership Award” in 2020 and was selected as a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation “Entrepreneur Fellow” in 2018. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Santa Cruz Works and as an external special adviser to UCSC Chancellor Cindy Larive.
Michael Morgan earned a B.A. in chemistry at UCSC in 1988 and went on to become an extraordinarily impactful high school chemistry teacher and a leader in science education. He taught science at four high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) before joining Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet School, where he now teaches honors and advanced placement chemistry, mentors student teachers, and coaches several extracurricular clubs.
During the past 25 years, Morgan has presented more than 100 workshops for educators and school leaders and has provided in-service training and leadership to new teachers. He participated in a state-wide collaborative effort that resulted in comprehensive standards for science education adopted by the California Department of Education.
Throughout his career, Michael has worked closely with the American Chemical Society (ACS) on education issues. In 2020, he was named an ACS Fellow, an extremely rare honor for a high school teacher, and received the ACS James Bryant Conant Award for High School Chemistry Teaching. He also received the 2020 Sal Castro Award for LAUSD teachers who advocate for students and improve the quality of education in minority communities, and he was named a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year in 2014.
Risa Wechsler received her Ph.D. in physics at UCSC in 2001 and is now a professor of physics and of particle physics and astrophysics at Stanford University and director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC). She is widely recognized for her work on the connection between galaxies and the underlying dark matter halos in which all galaxies reside. She has a vibrant and active research group, and many of her former students are now leaders in the field.
Wechsler has held leadership positions in several major scientific collaborations. She served as spokesperson for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument and is a founding member of the Dark Energy Survey and the Rubin Observatory’s LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration. As director of KIPAC, she has been relentless in working to improve diversity and inclusion within the institute and the Stanford Physics Department. She facilitated development of a strategic plan for equity and inclusion and created a code of conduct for the institute. Wechsler is also a strong voice for public engagement in science and gave a widely-viewed TED talk on the search for dark matter in the universe.
The PBSci distinguished alumni will be honored at an awards dinner to be held on Friday, April 22.