As mentioned in our first post, one of the many purposes of this blog is to write about organizations focusing on supporting underrepresented people in math. In that spirit, we are starting a series called i/e Spotlight, where we feature different organizations and the many opportunities provided by them. For the first post in this series, I wanted to write about SACNAS, a Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.
The mission of SACNAS is to lead change for true diversity in STEM, meaning that “the field (including leadership positions) reflects the demographics of the population.” This is not an easy task, but change is never easy. Here, I want to highlight three (out of many) aspects of SACNAS that are particularly important for this change, and which they are doing exceptionally well.
National Conference: Probably the most notable and exciting event related to SACNAS is the national conference, held every year in the Fall. This conference brings together thousands of students, faculty, and professionals in STEM from all over the country. Last year’s conference had more than 4000 attendees. Even though the focus is on science in general, there are still plenty of things to do for mathematicians. Between student poster sessions, networking events, exhibits, and special sessions, I was pretty busy. In fact, I gave two talks and was in a panel just last year!
One of my favorite things about this conference is the celebratory tone and the sense of community. For example, during every meal there can be plenary talks, panels, awards, music, or even dancing. There is always something scheduled, and it’s always wonderful and positive. Notice that it is a society for, not of, and so it is not exclusive only to Chicano/Hispanics and Native Americans (although it really does focus on celebrating accomplishments by those groups particularly, it never does so exclusively, and I find that it is a great place for people of all races and nationalities). It is a serious conference about STEM, but they also take time to develop a sense of community and celebration. The pow-wow is my favorite of these events, and the pachanga (a dance party with Latin music) is a close second.
I also find it is a great opportunity to interact with non-mathematicians, and I learn so much from just talking to people in different disciplines. In fact, there is no other conference that I could have attended at the same time as my sister, an evolutionary biologist! If you’re interested in this conference, you still have time to register by going here. Travel scholarship deadlines have already passed, but keep this in mind for the future (if you’re a student or postdoc). CORRECTION June 12: You can still apply for a travel scholarship, until July 14, if you are an undergraduate in a summer research program (go here).
Student and professional chapters: Local student and professional chapters are essentially the way in which SACNAS gets to implement their vision throughout the year. In particular, student chapters present a unique opportunity for students who are underrepresented in science and math to create community, support each other, and help each other advance in their studies and careers. Professional chapters have a similar flavor, but work at the level of industry. For example, a friend recently helped create the professional chapter at NIH. If you are interested in finding out how to create a chapter in your school or company, the website provides a good set of instructions for doing so.
Leadership: I was very lucky to be selected last year to be part of the Linton-Poodry SACNAS Leadership Institute, one of three leadership programs that SACNAS supports. Named after two of the founders of the summer leadership program, Marigold Linton and Clifton Poodry, the LPSLI was created to mentor the next generation of STEM leaders. Some previous alums have gone on to be deans, institute directors, award winning faculty, and important media presences. Through this week-long program, we were able to plan out key steps in our careers, think about our positions as leaders (currently and in the future) and to engage and connect with some truly wonderful and admirable people. I learned so much about myself and made lasting friendships and connections, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. My leadership development plan is a treasured file I keep going back to since last summer. Many of my cohort from last year are going to do the Advanced Leadership Institute this summer, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
I only highlighted a few things that I think are particularly influential, but I invite you to take a look at their website and see just the extent to which this organization is helping the future generation of STEM leaders and researchers. There are so many stories, biographies, blogs, and news, and I invite you to search through it all. I am happy to be a part of this wonderful organization.