The 2016 SACNAS conference reignited my dreams

The following is a guest post from Duncan Rocha drocha@g.hmc.edu.

First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Duncan Rocha, a Tejano/Scottish crossbreed from San Francisco, California. I am a little more than two months into my college experience at Harvey Mudd College as a physics major, and so far it has been more than I could possibly ask for.

My father was the record-breaker in his 100% Mexican-American family. Being the first to go to college and eventually earn a masters degree, he conducted research in many branches of physics. Naturally, as a young boy, those were the shoes I wanted to step into. Growing up, though, has made me realize that my interest in physics has not been a string of boyhood fantasies and ideals. It has been a true passion for understanding the universe. As I grew older, I took physics into my own hands, flipping through any material I could find. I learned about research at the LHC, Fermilab, and many other facilities. To me, that was the dream. If I could just make it to Ligo, to the LHC, to an office in a university, I could fill the shoes that a great physicist wears. My childhood dreams, of lab coats and notebooks and complicated mathematical symbols scribbled on a blackboard, would be fulfilled. That is the image I has always painted myself into, but I have never really felt like it was within my reach. Especially as my other dreams faded out of existence, like going to the MLB hall of fame or becoming a star musician, it felt like my dream of being a great physicist was fading too. I never felt like the opportunity might never present itself, and if it were to, it would be years, if not decades, in the future.

I was wrong.

I walked into the SACNAS conference without a clue about what to expect. As I stepped into the exhibit hall, I was simply astounded. The pure vastness of the conference left me a little dazed. I think I managed to mutter a small “whoa” as I wobbled in, eyes wide at the sight. Thousands of people packed corridors upon corridors of booths, each flying different colors of schools, research institutes, or companies. Not only that, but the entire fair was surrounded on three sides by what I estimated was close to a thousand research boards. I began to explore the sea of science and math, but one booth quickly caught my eye. I strolled on over, not really sure what to say or where to begin, because the name of the booth had suddenly opened floodgates in my mind. It was Ligo. All of the stories I read about it, all of the chatter about gravitation waves and the fascination of all the intellectuals and even my own father, all of it came to the forefront of my mind when I approached the booth. This was it! This was an opportunity to step into the shoes of the image of the adult Duncan I had sculpted as a kid, and I was chatting with a man who could give me a chance to fulfill that dream. There is nothing more I could have asked for than to spark that flame, to reignite the hope I had when I was a kid that I would someday become a great physicist. I didn’t even care that a freshman almost certainly couldn’t get an internship at Ligo, I just needed something to reestablish the dream of my future. After that first encounter, I went on to explore the rest of the conference, but those two or three minutes at the Ligo booth were the most impactful for me of any other moment.

I hope, and as a matter of fact I know, that I was not the only young student who had their hopes and dreams reestablished by the SACNAS conference. I know they will continue to inspire young Latino/as and native American minds to aspire to become leaders in their fields.

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