Iowa State representation continues to grow at SACNAS Conference

Students and faculty members attending the SACNAS Conference.
Students and faculty members attending the SACNAS Conference.

On Oct. 21, Bryan Juarez was recognized for giving the best graduate student oral presentation in Ecology/Evolutionary Biology at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference. The multidisciplinary, national SACNAS conference attracted more than 4,000 scientists from undergraduates to faculty and everyone in between. Hundreds of universities, several government agencies, and private tech companies traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah for the event.

“SACNAS allowed me to not only broaden my scientific network, but it also gave me the opportunity to connect with many people,” said Kaitlyn Murphy (biology ’18), one of three undergraduates who attended the conference. “I was moved by speakers, motivated by stories, and encouraged that I am not alone.”

Iowa State has had a SACNAS chapter 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 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); helping students learn about research opportunities; and offering personal and professional development workshops during chapter meetings every two weeks.

This year the chapter sent eight students from the Departments of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology and Mathematics as well as from the Environmental Science and Bioinformatics and Computational Biology interdepartmental programs. Six of the students presented research in oral and poster presentations. Six Iowa State faculty members also attended the conference. Funding to attend the conference was provided from the Horticultural Department, Interdepartmental Genetics, the SACNAS travel award, and the STEM Scholars Program.

“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,” said Kevin Quinteros, doctoral student in genetics and genomics and SACNAS chapter secretary.

At the conference, faculty and students recruited the diverse attendees to pursue a graduate degree or summer undergraduate research opportunities at ISU. Funding and logistics support for attending and recruiting at the conference came from the Interdepartmental Toxicology graduate program, the Interdepartmental Genetics and Genomics graduate program and ISU Graduate College as part of their commitment to recruiting a diverse student body.

“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!” said Andrea Fondren (biology ’19), chapter treasurer, who presented a poster at the conference. “It energizes you and revolutionizes the typical definition of a scientist, showing you that anyone can be a scientist.”

As the largest multidisciplinary and multiethnic STEM diversity organization in the country, SACNAS is an excellent place to find talented underrepresented minority scientists from undergraduates to postdocs. Several of ISU’s attendees were either recruited or have successfully recruited individuals to Ph.D. or postdoctoral positions at the conference.

Iowa State’s presence at this conference has increased each year. Daniela Flores, doctoral student in genetics and genomics and chapter president, is seeking election as the graduate student representative on the National Board of Directors for SACNAS. If elected, Flores will join ISU Chapter Co-Advisor, Corey Welch, director of the STEM Scholars Program at Iowa State, who is already serving on the board.

Personal and professional development are also major components to the success of SACNAS and its members.

“The conference shows me both how far I've come and what I aspire to be in my career as a scientist,” said Flores. “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.”

Students and faculty interested in learning more about SACNAS and the ISU Chapter meetings should email Kevin Quinteros. The chapter meets every other Thursday through the Fall and Spring Semesters.

This story submitted by David Ortiz, graduate student in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology and member of SACNAS.