Students Enjoy Unforgettable SACNAS Conference

Cristina Clark, Kyle Proctor, Kheperah Ray, Simone Batiste, Jessica Noe and Andrea Mast were among 25 undergraduate University of San Diego students who won’t forget how they spent Oct. 13-15, 2016 in Long Beach, Calif.

Why? It’s the feeling they had when one’s hopes and expectations meet reality and, through valuable networking and learning about helpful resources available, your potential career path suddenly becomes clearer. That's what it felt like to USD students who attended the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Conference for Diversity in STEM at the Long Beach Convention Center.

"This conference really opened my eyes," said Proctor, a McNair Scholar and a fifth-year senior environmental studies major and mathematics minor. "While I knew there were so many people of color doing great work, it's one thing to know it and another thing to see it, to see thousands of people really inspired me. It was incredibly uplifting."

Proctor was among 10 Toreros who presented research projects on posters — Clark, Noe, Mast, Jessica Ruiz, Sirena Tran, Micaella Jorge, Ciera Villegas, Kevin Do, Lauren Roberts, and Katie Ghiorso were the others — at the conference, which had more than 4,000 attendees and 1,000 student research presenters. Proctor was among the USD contingent celebrating, too, when Noe and Mast each received special award recognition for their respective research presentations.

Clark, also a McNair Scholar and a senior marine science major conducting research in Mission Bay and who aspires to work in marine mammal ecology and conservation, said the conference was helpful on multiple levels. She appreciated the networking, breakout sessions she attended and, when presenting her research, the attentiveness given by conference attendees.

"Presenting was different because I'd never been judged before so that was a little nerve-wracking. It was challenging, too, but in a good way. I had one ecology professor who came by to ask me about my poster and it turned into one of the most in-depth conversations I've ever had based on research, other than conversations with my own faculty adviser."

USD students who weren't presenting research still had great opportunities to learn about graduate schools and internships, meet graduate admissions and faculty from schools throughout the U.S., students at other universities and get information about key resources and programs. For Ray, a second-semester junior Electrical Engineering major, his attendance at SACNAS opened him up to new possibilities. 

"I came to SACNAS with my mindset kind of closed. I kind of had my mind made up that I didn't want to go to graduate school and instead wanted go the entrepreneurial route and let that path develop," said Ray, who is USD’s National Society of Black Engineers chapter president. "But thanks to Mr. (USD McNair Scholars Director Ramiro) Frausto, he wanted me to attend and get some exposure to graduate school. He introduced me to a number of his colleagues who showed me that I could go to grad school and that I could do research on things that my creativity would take me to."

USD’s attendance at the national SACNAS conference may seem somewhat unusual as USD currently doesn’t have an official SACNAS student chapter. But USD’s Office of Undergraduate Research Director, Sonia Zarate, serves on SACNAS’ Board of Directors. College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Perla Myers, STEM Career Counselor Rhonda Harley, McNair Scholars Director Ramiro Frausto and other USD faculty members attended the conference to support their students and they’ve been working to establish a USD chapter. Attendance at the conference was a chance to introduce all of the students — who represented a cross-section of majors on campus — to the organization. Given their experience last weekend, USD seems well on its way to increasing SACNAS' presence in San Diego.

Clark, Proctor and Ray were among those who'd like to see a SACNAS chapter formed at USD. One student, sophomore Simone Batiste, a biology (pre-med emphasis) major, would seem to have the chance to be significantly involved in a potential chapter. She and fellow USD student Samara Smith, who together have started a Students of Color in STEM club on campus this semester, both attended the conference. Batiste got a lead on a potential summer medical fellowship program that she planned to apply for this week, part of an unforgettable weekend.

"SACNAS changed my view about what it means to succeed in a science field," Batiste said. "My goal in life is to take what I learn from science, which is a passion of mine, and my passion for giving back to my community and merge the two together. Coming to SACNAS really gave me examples, gave me motivation and gave me the inspiration for how I can do that from here on out."

— Ryan T. Blystone

See a photo slideshow of USD students at the SACNAS Conference

The University of San Diego had 25 students, including 10 research presenters, and faculty and staff who attended the Oct. 13-15 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference in Long Beach, Calif. The University of San Diego had 25 students, including 10 research presenters, and faculty and staff who attended the Oct. 13-15 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference in Long Beach, Calif.

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