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The 2017 SACNAS conference brought together the most innovative minds in the STEM field, hosting three days of cutting-edge science, mentoring, professional training and cultural activities. As a sponsor of SACNAS, the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) led the pre-conference event “Share, Connect, and Empower” where students from BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity) and mentors from NRMN (National Research Mentoring Network), came together to share their stories and hopes for the STEM field. The evening started with an empowering workshop led by SF BUILD, focused on how to leverage personal assets to gain an advantage in the biomedical field. This included discussions surrounding how to stay committed and persistent in science, as well as how our life journey can help us better serve the communities we come from. After the workshop, students built their social capital through a mixer where they networked with their mentors and their BUILD peers. The DPC ended the evening with participants sharing their personal journey through a creative spoken word performance.
At the pre-conference, the DPC Coordination and Evaluation Center (one of three main cores at the Diversity Program Consortium) set up a portable video production studio to conduct interviews with 8 BUILD students and 1 NRMN mentor. The audiovisual that was captured will be used to develop short clips, content for newsletters, and to help promote the Diversity Program Consortium. Through highlighting the participant’s SACNAS/BUILD/NRMN voice, we realized how rich and intertwined our student’s experiences are.
As a part of their participation with the Diversity Progam Consortium, BUILD students are paired up with mentors within the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). The mentors not only give valuable guidance, but they become role models to our young upcoming STEM professionals. Andrea Luna spoke about how her mentor played a significant role in her life, convincing her to apply to college. She shared that she would not be at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) if it wasn’t for her mentor’s belief in her. It is clear from talking to Andrea that her appreciation for her mentors runs deep. “As my mentor put it one time, ‘there will be a time where it’s going to be hard, but these are the tools you’re picking up. You’re picking up your hammers, your saw, your nails and you’re going to keep going and that’s how you’re going to build your foundation.' My mentor Dr. Roudi Roy, was always there to help me, to motivate me, to tell me that I had my tools and must build my house”
Many of the BUILD students spoke about pivotal moments in their careers where they realized the biomedical field was right for them. For Brianna Sanchez, a junior at UTEP, it clicked for her when she was working on a research project focused on the Zika virus at Baylor College of Medicine. “It wasn’t until I actually went into the clinic and was shadowing my PI, that I was able to actually see the impact of the virus on the population, on the women and on the fetuses as well. One of the things I saw when I was visiting the clinic was a sense of fear and wanting to know answers. I think that’s where fear really comes from. It wasn’t until I saw the link between my work and the impact on the population, that I really was able to understand clearly the impact of my work and how important it is for these individuals to get the answers they needed."
We asked the BUILD students what it meant to them to be a part of BUILD. Montserrat Garcia Arreguin from the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP), spoke about how being a part of BUILD has introduced her to the many different paths available to her. In high school, she felt pursuing a biology degree meant she would ultimately become a biology teacher, but through her involvement in BUILD, she has formed her worldview of the biomedical science field and realized the opportunities are limitless for her.
A common thread shared by the interviewees is their understanding that a diverse STEM workforce leads to better science and innovation. A diverse biomedical field force not only leads to new innovative solutions but also an attention and commitment to ensuring the future’s biggest scientific problems are solved with a consideration for our diverse world. Arturo Zavala, a junior at the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP) states, “Diversity in biomedical research is important because it is from diversity, that you get new ideas. Once you start including diversity, once you start including people who have gone through different conflicts, you gain this pool of knowledge, of skills, and of problem-solving techniques, that you may not have thought about otherwise.”
In addition to interviewing BUILD students, we interviewed NRMN mentors. The mentors spoke about how they hoped to connect their students with more opportunities than what was given to them. Danielle Morales, a mentor at UTEP, shared with us that a lot of her students are first-generation students. “They didn’t get the opportunity to do research, but our program provides them these opportunities.”
Through these interviews, it became clear that with tenacity, hard work, and guidance from our NRMN mentors, the BUILD students will lead proactive lives in their communities. Programs like the Diversity Program Consortium will ensure their success.
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.