Thursday, November 8, 2012

SACNAS and AISES conferences give inspiration to students and EPSCoR alike

Participants took a day trip to Matanuska Glacier during AISES.
Increasing diversity in the science fields is one of WyomingEPSCoR’s goals when it comes to outreach and education. Minority populations and women have traditionally been underrepresented in the science fields but this is beginning to change. Organizations such as the Society for Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) work to empower minority students in the science fields through networking, funding and programs to help break down the barriers.
This fall Wyoming EPSCoR accompanied groups of students to both the SACNAS conference in Seattle, Washington October 11th-14th and the AISES conference in Anchorage, Alaska October 30th-November 4th. These conferences left a big impression on both the students and EPSCoR.
“It was inspiring to see how motivated and excited the students were at both conferences,” says Beth Cable, Education, Outreach and Diversity Project Coordinator for Wyoming EPSCoR. “In my opinion, the students really went above and beyond what I imagined in terms of networking, interviewing, learning and gleaning information from the break-out sessions. I was extremely pleased.”
SACNAS was founded in 1973 by a small group of Native American and Chicano scientists who were concerned about the lack of minority students in the science fields. Since then, SACNAS has grown to 25,000 members and continues to support Chicano and Native American students and professionals in attaining advanced degrees, careers and positions.
Four upperclassmen from the University of Wyoming attended the SACNAS conference where they joined a diversity of students from minority populations.  The conference focused on how it has expanded since 1973 and how SACNAS is helping students pursue professions in the sciences. For UW’s students, the conference provided a platform for exploring graduate schools, career options and new areas of interest.
“The students at SACNAS were very inspired and dedicated to finding out as much information as they possibly could,” says Lisa Abeyta, Student Research Programs Coordinator for Wyoming EPSCoR. “They attended the breakout sessions that would most benefit their future. We would regroup at the end of each day and they all had more ideas of what they would like to do in the future or where they wanted to attend graduate school.”
During the conference, students had the opportunity to meet and talk with professors and professionals, which they used to make connections and start networking.
“What I was most intrigued by is that the students were not intimidated to talk to professors, other professionals or even the executive director of SACNAS,” Abeyta says.
The conference provided a positive atmosphere that promoted empowerment, productivity and enthusiasm. UW’s students returned to campus rejuvenate and reenergized about their fields and futures.
A few weeks later, Wyoming EPSCoR geared up for the AISES conference in Anchorage. AISES was founded in 1977 and aims to increase the number of Native American and Alaskan Native students in the STEM fields. Its programs are designed for pre-college students, college students and professionals so as to support individuals throughout their scientific careers.
Three students from UW and three students from the WindRiver Indian Reservation attended the conference designed primarily for Native American and Alaska Native students. Like the SACNAS conference, the AISES conference provided students with a venue for exploring their options and networking.
 “What stands out to me most about the conferences is the indigenous people working so hard to better themselves, their tribe and their communities,” Cable says. “They expressed such kindness and love for their research and science, for each other and also for all of us who participated in the conference.  It was a gentle, very encouraging, environment.”
The connections made, the new options to consider and the support structures offered at the conference gave these six students new tools to use in pursuing their education and careers as scientists. It was a success all the way around, including for Wyoming EPSCoR and its programs.
“The conferences fit hugely into EPSCoR’s goals for diversity, outreach and education,” says Cable. “Both of our grants aim to collaborate with the Wind River Indian Reservation and minority populations. I was presented with so much positive, inspiring information, and now it is just finding the time and the means to really dig in and start implementing some of this.”

By Kali S. McCrackin 
Photo courtesy of Beth Cable

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