The excitement and sense of anticipation were palpable as guests mingled at a recent reception held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to announce the largest gathering of underrepresented minority scientists and STEM students in the United States.
The 2014 National Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) will take place Oct. 15-19 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
As the event’s first Platinum Sponsor, USC has pledged $100,000 toward the effort. The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is a main co-organizer of the conference, expected to draw 5,000 people.
“USC has brought to the table not just monetary contributions but an energy and enthusiasm for how they would like to see the involvement with SACNAS grow well past this conference and into our community commitment, which has been absolutely tremendous,” said Gabriel Montaño, president elect of SACNAS, at the Jan. 30 reception, which brought together the organization’s leadership with members from across Southern California.
George Sanchez, USC Dornsife’s professor of American studies and ethnicity, and history, and vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, called USC and SACNAS “a wonderful partnership.”
“USC is committed to diversity in the sciences, and this is the largest pan-science organization dedicated to diversity in the country,” he said. Most organizations concentrate on one science field: engineering, mathematics or biology. SACNAS is dedicated to scientists across all these fields.
“We feel that this conference is our perfect opportunity for USC to go all out and make sure we are a vital part of bringing this event to downtown Los Angeles.”
Civic engagement and scholarship for all
Dean Steve A. Kay and USC Dornsife have provided tremendous support, Sanchez said, along with the USC Office of the Provost, the Latino Alumni Association, the USC Office of the President for University Relations, the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
Sanchez, who has devoted his life to championing diversity and civic engagement and scholarship with societal impact, has long been closely involved with SACNAS, helping USC Dornsife students establish a SACNAS chapter on campus two years ago to promote diversity in all scientific fields.
“It’s important to note that SACNAS is open to all scientists,” Sanchez said. “It’s not only for Chicano and Native Americans, but also promotes diversity for African-Americans, women and first-generation college students — and all other underrepresented groups.”
Sanchez spoke of his excitement at helping to bring so many scientists from diverse backgrounds together for the five-day event.
“For many of our students and faculty, this conference is a wonderful opportunity to walk into a room and see diverse people who are absolutely committed to science and scientific research,” Sanchez said. “It gets you past the stereotype that somehow minority students aren’t interested in science, or that there aren’t potential minority faculty that we can hire, or postdoctoral researchers and PhD students who we can’t encourage.”
The conference will also benefit USC students and faculty.
“This is a major opportunity for our undergraduates to present their own research to a national conference and, if they’re from Los Angeles, to invite their families,” Sanchez said. “They can be judged on a national level, and SACNAS gives many prizes for the best presentation in various fields.”
“We want our faculty, our PhD students and our postdocs to present on panels to show the cutting-edge research they are doing,” he added. “This is a wonderful chance to highlight what we’re doing at USC in the sciences.”
More representation for minorities
Sanchez said USC Dornsife’s initial efforts to create greater diversity have succeeded, particularly at the PhD level where the number of Latino doctoral students in science has tripled in the last six years.
“That’s a huge jump in underrepresented minority students, representing a leap to about 6 percent of all science PhD students, which translates into almost 40 students across all USC Dornsife science departments,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez believes this year’s conference will help the USC-SACNAS chapter realize its goal of expanding its activities with undergraduates.
Events planned to take place at the USC University Park Campus to tie-in with the conference include an undergraduate tour.
“We want to show off our labs, we want to show off the research we’re doing, we want to show off what the future holds with the new USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience — all this is really important to get young people excited about the future of science,” Sanchez said.
During the conference, USC will also hold a sponsored reception at the Bonaventure Hotel to introduce postdoctoral researchers and emerging young scholars to USC scientists.
“To have this major exchange about scientific research taking place right on our doorstep is very exciting, so let’s take advantage of it,” Sanchez said. “Our faculty, our postdocs, our PhD students and our undergraduates will all benefit from this.”
Sanchez called for USC undergraduates interested in presenting at the conference to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support for undergraduate presenters will be provided by the USC-SACNAS chapter. More information on presenting at the conference can be found here. Faculty participating as judges will be allowed free conference registration.