Mathematics at 2019 SACNAS

Below I share some details about SACNAS and some of the mathematical events that happened at this year’s SACNAS National Conference.  I hope that this may also serve as an invitation/motivation for anyone interested in diversity and mathematics to participate in SACNAS at any level.


The Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is a society that aims to further the success of Hispanic and Native American students in obtaining advanced degrees, careers, leadership positions, and equality in STEM.  SACNAS was founded in 1973 by underrepresented scientists to address the representation of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in STEM.  Diverse voices can expand scientific and mathematical knowledge as well as bring creative solutions to scientific problems.  This is one of SACNAS’s motivations for building an inclusive, innovative, and powerful national network of scientists, which now includes over 6,000 society members, over 115 student and professional chapters, and over 20,000 supporters of SACNAS throughout the USA.  Contrary to the name, the society is welcoming of people from all backgrounds, identities, fields of study, and professions. SACNAS is the largest multicultural STEM diversity organization in the US.

SACNAS has programs and events that train and support the diverse STEM talent that is found in this country.  This is done in partnership with the student and professional chapters, the leadership programs, Native American programs, regional meetings, and policy and advocacy initiatives.  SACNAS also hosts THE National Diversity in STEM Conference.  This year’s 2019 SACNAS National Conference in Honolulu, Hawai’i brought in over 5,000 participants!  Next year the 2020 SACNAS National Conference is in Long Beach, California!

Math at SACNAS:

Mathematicians and mathematics have always been a strong part of SACNAS.  In fact some of the founders of SACNAS include mathematicians, such as Dr. Richard Tapia (Rice University) and Dr. William Vélez (University of Arizona). I am fortunate to have met these two great mathematicians, who at different times in my academic journey have shared their wisdom and thoughtful advice.

Dr. Richard Tapia and I at the 2011 National SACNAS Conference.

My first SACNAS conference was in 2011 in San José, California.  I was a second-year undergraduate student attending his first scientific conference.  I was eager to learn and excited for all the opportunities that would be presented at this conference, but I did not know what to expect.  Fortunately, I found a community of mathematicians who share similar goals for diversifying mathematics and who genuinely care in supporting the success of students.  I trace my interest in combinatorics to the 2011 SACNAS National Conference, where I had the opportunity to attended the NSF Mathematics Institutes’ Modern Math Workshop.  That year’s keynote lecture on “Counting Lattice Points in Polytopes” was presented by Dr. Federico Ardila (San Francisco State University).  As an example of the power of networking, community, and mathematics at SACNAS, four years later Federico became one of my master’s thesis co-advisors.  More than that, I found an unconditional mentor, friend, and research collaborator and I owe part of this to SACNAS for providing a space for a student like me to grow academically and professionally.

Students from the UC Berkeley Cal NERDS program (including me)  with Federico Ardila at the 2011 SACNAS National Conference.

The Modern Math Workshop is a two-day workshop that takes place in conjunction with the national meeting of the SACNAS conference and showcases the contemporary research happening at NSF-funded mathematical sciences institutes around the country.  It became a collaboration with SACNAS in 2006 and has been jointly organized by the Mathematical Sciences Institutes since 2008. Since 2011 this event has been funded by the NSF through the Mathematical Sciences Institute Diversity Initiative. The workshop is a mix of activities including research expositions aimed at graduate students and researchers, mini-courses aimed at undergraduates, a keynote lecture by a distinguished scientist, and a reception where participants can learn more information about the Mathematical Sciences Institutes.

In addition to the Modern Math Workshop, there are scientific symposia organized by mathematicians, there are oral graduate presentations, and both graduate and undergraduate poster presentations.

Math at 2019 SACNAS:

I do not know if it was because we were in the beautiful city of Honolulu, that the sky was much bluer and the ocean water much clearer, but there was certainly an extra revitalizing energy present at this year’s SACNAS conference.  Below are some of the mathematical events that went on (and that I participated in) at this year’s SACNAS conference.  I am sure there were more that I missed out on.

This year’s Modern Math Workshop was organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI)  There were two mini-courses aimed at undergraduate students. One was lead by Dr. Wilfrid Gangbo (UCLA)  and Dr. Anastasia Chavez (UC Davis).   The workshop also included research talks aimed at graduate students and faculty and were delivered by representative mathematicians from each of the NSF Math Institutes.  Additionally, there was a panel which addressed topics such as: imposter syndrome, how to choose a graduate program, how to stay motivated, how to choose a mathematical field, etc.  Below are some of the speakers and panelists.

  • Katherine Breen (Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM))
  • Xinyi Li (SAMSI – Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute)
  • Gabriel Martins (California State University, Sacramento)
  • Robin Neumayer (Northwestern University)
  • Marilyn Vazquez (Mathematical Biosciences Institute (Ohio State University)Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM))

I was able to sit in Dr. Anastasia Chavez’s mini-courses, which was “An introduction to matroid theory.”  My discrete mathematical mind was very happy to hear and learn from my friend on a topic that is incredibly interesting.  You can find her slides here.

Anastasia Chavez delivering her mini-course on matroids.

Apart from the Modern Math Workshop there were three great events/experiences that I would like to share with you all.

  1. Dr. Rebecca Garcia (Sam Houston State University)  and Dr. Kamuela Yong (University of Hawai’i – West O‘ahu) organized the very first “Pacific Islanders in Mathematics” session.  This was a historic event (the organizers are writing a more detailed article to be shared with the public) and it featured amazing speakers including:
    • Kyle Dahlin (Purdue University): Avian Malaria & Hawaiian Honeycreepers – Modeling of the Effectiveness of Vector Control
    • Dr. Marissa Loving (Georgia Tech): Determining Metrics using the Lengths of Curves
    • Ashlee Kalauli (UC Santa Barbara): Solving the Word Problem for Artin Groups
    • Dr. Efren Ruiz (University of Hawai’i – Hilo): Rings Associated to Directed Graphs

      “Pacific Islanders in Mathematics” organizers and speakers (Left to Right): Rebecca Garcia, Efren Ruiz, Kyle Dahlin, Marissa Loving, Ashlee Kalauli, baby Kamuela, and Kamuela Young.

  2. Dr. Pamela Harris and I co-organized, “Latinxs Count!”, an algebraic and geometric combinatorics research talk session at SACNAS. It featured a talk by me and three amazing speakers :
    • Andrés R. Vindas Meléndez (University of Kentucky): An Invitation to Ehrhart Theory
    • Laura Escobar (Washington University in St. Louis): Polytopes and Algebraic Geometry
    • Ryan Moruzzi, Jr. (Ithaca College): Exploring Bases of Modules using Partition overlaid Patterns
    • Rosa Orellana (Dartmouth): The Combinatorics of Multiset Tableaux

      “Latinxs Count!” organizers and speakers (Left to Right): Ryan Moruzzi, Jr., Andrés R. Vindas Meléndez, Pamela Harris, Laura Escobar, and Rosa Orellana.

  3. Dr. Pamela Harris was also one of the featured speakers at the SACNAS National Conference.  Her featured talk titled, “DREAMing,” shared her story as DREAMer and her mathematical journey into research and mentoring.

A snapshot of Pamela Harris’ featured talk.


I am blessed to have such a supportive mathematics/SACNISTA familia.  To end the blog post, I want to share something I mentioned at the conference. I overheard several people say that the math they do is not useful, but I want to challenge each of us to think more about the meaningfulness of our mathematics.  Sure, my math may not be applicable (at least right now) to anything “useful”, but it is meaningful to me.  It has given me a career path, it has allowed me to make wonderful friends and connections, and I get to share the beauty and meaning of it with people all over the world.  But, that’s a whole other topic for a blog post (too deep for this blog post), so I hope that you got a glimpse of the mathematical events that I experienced at this year’s SACNAS National Conference!  I look forward to seeing and meeting some of you at the 2020 SACNAS National Conference in Long Beach, CA!

Mathematicians after Pamela Harris’ talk! Building community.


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About Andrés R. Vindas Meléndez

I am currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Kentucky working under the guidance of Benjamin Braun. I am also an affiliated graduate student in the Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino/a Studies program. Before coming to Kentucky, I earned a master's degree in mathematics at San Francisco State University where my advisors were Federico Ardila and Matthias Beck. I completed my undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley where I also minored in Philosophy and Chicana/o & Latina/o Studies. If you are interested in my research & writing, teaching, upcoming activities & travel, or CV, I invite you to visit my personal webpage: .
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