SAN DIEGO — The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced Tuesday that it awarded nearly $7 million to UC San Diego and UC Berkeley to expand a program that supports STEM students from underrepresented demographics.

The organization established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan allocated $6.9 million for a five-year partnership with the two UC schools to foster a support program for science, technology, engineering and math students similar to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Meyerhoff Scholars program.

According to CZI, UMBC's Meyerhoff program has helped underrepresented students earn 484 doctorates and 253 master's degrees since its founding in 1997. The school also confers more dual M.D.-Ph.D. degrees to black students than any other in the country through the Meyerhoff program.

"California's openness to new ways of thinking is what has made this state an innovation engine for the world, and the University of California has played a crucial role in that as one of the largest and most diverse public research universities in the country," Chan said. "With these new grants, we hope to help bring even more diversity of perspective and experience to our state -- and to Silicon Valley."

A 2017 study by the San Francisco Business Times found that UC Berkeley and UCSD ranked first and ninth, respectively, among the top schools from which Silicon Valley tech companies recruit. But while roughly 17.3 million people hold a job in a STEM field in the U.S., a 2018 Pew Research Center study revealed that those jobs are overwhelmingly held by white people.

In the U.S. STEM industry, 69% of jobs are held by white people, 13% are held by Asian or Asian-American people, 9% by black people and 7% by Latino and Latina people.

"Through their initiative, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are giving generous support that will touch the lives of students who are majoring in STEM fields -- making UC San Diego a place of opportunity for any student in our region," said Becky Petitt, UCSD's vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.

At UCSD, the new program will complement the university's established PATHS program, which provides mentorship and financial assistance to STEM students from underserved backgrounds. UCSD launched the PATHS program in 2017.

"UC San Diego's new partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a welcomed addition to our existing efforts to increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and math," said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla.