The 2017 National Diversity in STEM Conference
By Sydney Stanley, published in our 2017-18 issue
I had the extreme privilege and pleasure of attending the 2017 National Diversity in STEM Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference was hosted by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). SACNAS works to increase the representation of Hispanics and Native Americans in all levels of STEM, including those in advanced degree programs, faculty positions, industry, and leadership roles. Through chapters at 115 different universities across the nation, SACNAS provides professional development, mentorship, leadership development, and community to thousands of members.
SACNAS provides all of theses services and more via their annual National Diversity in STEM Conference. This year’s conference attracted over 4,000 attendees, including students, professors, industry leaders, and representatives from STEM academic programs. The schedule was filled with various workshops, ranging from résumé-building sessions to discussions about finding the perfect post-doctorate position. The conference also provided ample opportunity for over 1,000 students to share their research: undergraduates gave poster presentations that were judged by distinguished faculty and graduate students delivered talks to captivated audiences. After presenting, students were encouraged to walk the exhibit hall, where they had the opportunity to network with 350 recruiters from medical schools, PhD programs, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NASA, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and pharmaceutical companies.
The highlight of the event was the three keynote speakers who shared how they tackled adversity. The first was Jackie Biskupski, the mayor of Salt Lake City. As Utah’s first openly gay elected public official, her speech emphasized the importance of diverse and inclusive leadership. The second keynote speaker was Dr. Tyrone B. Hayes, a research professor at University of California, Berkeley who studies developmental endocrinology. During his speech, Dr. Hayes shared how he dedicated his career to championing the rights of minorities and other marginalized groups disproportionately impacted by the overuse of harmful insecticides. The final keynote speaker was Dr. Mario Capecchi. After surviving the Holocaust, Capecchi and his mother moved from fascist Italy to the United States. Capecchi pursued his passion for science and eventually earned his PhD under the mentorship of none other than James Watson. Fast-forward several decades, Capecchi earned the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology for developing the technique used to create knockout mice, a tool used by scientist all over the world to study disease and test treatments. All three speeches were incredibly inspiring and great examples of the importance of embracing and celebrating diversity in all its forms.
I have been to several scientific conferences before, but nothing has rivaled the 2017 National Diversity in STEM Conference hosted by SACNAS. The enthusiasm for science electrified the air and the drive for representation and inclusion was palpable. Diversifying STEM propels discoveries that benefit us all. I encourage anyone who cares about diversity in STEM to attend the conference and become involved with SACNAS or similar organizations.