Building a network of diverse STEM researchers at SACNAS conference

Back row: Michael Young, Bryan Juarez, Kaitlyn Murphy, Kevin Quinteros, and Corey Welch
Front row: Patrick Mendoza, David Ortiz, Daniela Flores, Tracy Heath, Gustavo Macintosh and Andrea Fondren

Iowa State University’s chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science recently attended the organization’s National Diversity in STEM Conference in Salt Lake City.

Fourteen Iowa State faculty and staff took part in the event, going to professional development workshops, networking, and giving research presentations – all with an aim of building a national network of researchers that is innovative, powerful and inclusive.

What was it like to be there at the SACNAS conference? Let’s hear directly from an Iowa State chapter member who attended, David Ortiz, graduate student in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology:

Iowa State has had a chapter of SACNAS for over four years, expanding the chapter size to 20 active members. The goal of the organization is to promote the involvement of all students in STEM, helping students learn about research opportunities, and offering personal and professional development workshops during chapter meetings.

This year, the Iowa State chapter sent eight students to the national SACNAS conference, six of which presented research. Six Iowa State faculty members also attended the national SACNAS conference. The multidisciplinary national SACNAS conference attracted over 4,000 scientists, from undergraduates to faculty and everyone in between, hundreds of universities, several government agencies and private tech companies in Salt Lake City.

As the largest multidisciplinary and multiethnic STEM diversity organization in the country, SACNAS is arguably the best place to find talented, underrepresented, minority scientists from undergraduates to postdocs. Several of Iowa State’s attendees were either recruited or have successfully recruited individuals to Ph.D. or postdoctoral positions at the conference. And likewise, our Iowa State faculty and students recruited the diverse conference attendees to pursue a graduate degree or summer undergraduate research opportunities here at Iowa State.

Iowa State’s presence at the national SACNAS conference has increased each year and continues to grow.

Iowa State’s chapter president, Daniela Flores, a graduate student in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology, is in the middle of an election for the graduate student representative on the national board of directors for SACNAS. If elected, Flores will join Iowa State’s chapter co-advisor, Corey Welch, director of Iowa State’s STEM Scholars program, who is already serving on the board.

And at this year’s conference, Bryan Juarez, the chapters’ media coordinator and a graduate student in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology, was recognized for giving the best graduate student oral presentation in the area of ecology and evolutionary biology.

But you don’t have to take just my word about how outstanding our SACNAS conference experience was. Here’s what some of my colleagues had to say about the conference:

“SACNAS allowed me to not only broaden my scientific network, but it also gave me the opportunity to connect with many people. I was moved by speakers, motivated by stories, and encouraged that I am not alone,” – Kaitlyn Murphy, a senior in biology.

“As a Central American student, I feel that I can represent and be supported as a Central American at SACNAS, as opposed to just being another generic Latino student at other conferences,” – Kevin Quinteros, a graduate student in genetics and genomics.

“The SACNAS national conference has an environment and energy that is unlike any other; it’s difficult to not want to be a part of it! It energizes you and revolutionizes the typical definition of a scientist, showing you that anyone can be a scientist,” – Andrea Fondren, chapter treasurer and a junior in biology.

“The conference shows me both how far I’ve come and what I aspire to be in my career as a scientist. Not only do I make invaluable connections with STEM leaders, but I also get to give back to this community that has been so influential in my career. The conference feels like a family and I leave with a renewed energy to work towards my career goal” –Daniela Flores, chapter president and a graduate student in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology.

Funding and logistics support for attending and recruiting at the conference came from Iowa State’s interdepartmental toxicology graduate program, interdepartmental genetics and genomics graduate program, and the Graduate College, as part of their commitment to recruiting a diverse student body.

Are you interested in learning more about Iowa State’s chapter of SACNAS? Email Kevin Quinteros. The chapter meets every other Thursday during the academic year.

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