Transgender graduate student Shayle Matsuda has received an outstanding achievement award from the California State University Board of Trustees. The award is bestowed annually to one student from each of the 23 CSU campuses across the state who has demonstrated exemplary academic performance, personal achievements, community service, and financial need. It is the highest student distinction within the CSU system and includes a $6,000 scholarship.
Matsuda is a third year master’s student in the biology department at San Francisco State University and a student researcher at the California Academy of Sciences. Originally from a Chicago suburb, Matsuda is of Japanese and Russian Jewish decent, and a cancer survivor. He mentors marginalized high school students underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and he’s also the creator and host of Science, Neat, a monthly interactive event for local scientists to connect with each other.
Winning the trustees’ award has been about more than scholarship money for Matsuda, although he’s happy about that part, too. For him, being recognized and celebrated as a transgender person is arguably the best part.
“Having the CSU system support me as a transgender student is huge,” Matsuda said. “I didn’t realize how deeply I needed that, how much I’d been pushing against the world to accept me.”
Being publicly recognized has also provided Matsuda with the opportunity to be intentionally vocal about his identity. Being out, especially as a scientist, is something he feels is a social responsibility.
“If you Google ‘transgender scientists’ very few come up,” Matsuda said. “As long as I feel physically safe, I feel an obligation to be visible because it’s important to have conversations with people, make connections, and expand perceptions of what scientists can look like.”
Matsuda will complete his master’s degree next spring, then plans to pursue a doctorate in evolutionary and marine biology.