Twenty BUILD PODER Students Attend 2017 SACNAS Conference, Largest Meeting for Diversity in STEM in the United States

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Twenty California State University, Northridge BUILD PODER students traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah last week for the 2017 Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference. SACNAS is the largest multicultural and multidisciplinary diversity organization in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in the United States. Its annual conference draws thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, graduate school recruiters, STEM leaders and professionals, and companies and organizations from all over the nation, for three days of networking, workshops, and inspiring speakers. The 2017 SACNAS conference was held from Oct. 19-21 and drew around 4,000 attendees.

As part of BUILD PODER’s program requirements, students must attend a scientific conference during their first year in the program and present their research at conferences in their second and third years. BUILD PODER provides travel funds for each student, covering conference registration fees, airfare, hotel lodging, and meals, which can often cost students well over $1,000. The SACNAS conference was highlighted as an incredible opportunity for both those attending a conference for the first time as well for those presenting their research projects.


BUILD PODER Scholar and biochemistry major Gilberto Mendez, who was one of 15 BUILD PODER students presenting research at SACNAS, said presenting at such a diverse conference had a positive impact on his experience.

“This conference was great because I didn't feel imposter syndrome,” said Mendez, referring to the struggle of self-doubt and feeling like a “fraud” that many minorities and women experience in professional or academic settings. “Previous conferences that I've been to had primarily a white population, but at SACNAS it was great seeing so much diversity. I felt welcomed.”


With hundreds of graduate school recruiters looking for prospective applicants, the conference was great for college seniors looking to attend a master’s or doctoral program next year. BUILD PODER Scholar, Katie Gonzalez, a psychology major presented her research at SACNAS. She said she attended the conference with that particular goal in mind. Gonzalez prepared a spreadsheet of six graduate schools she is interested in attending and learned all she could about each.

“It was really helpful to talk to people who were representing their schools, and ask them questions about the environment of the school, the kind of funding they had available as well as the recruiters’ own experiences as doctoral students or as faculty members,” Gonzalez said. “One of the best parts was getting fee waivers for the applications. They either sent me fee waivers that day, or gave me their contacts for later. It would be harder to get them otherwise, since I would have to find them online or figure out who to email, taking time away from important things like working on my essays.”


Mary Antikyan, a BUILD PODER Community College Trainee who majored in nursing at Los Angeles Valley College went to SACNAS as an attendee. Atikyan said SACNAS was a good choice for her very first conference and said she feels more prepared for when she eventually presents her research at the next one.


“I thought the conference was amazing,” Antikyan said. “I’ve never attended a conference before, so seeing all the different opportunities available to undergrads was really eye opening. I won’t go into my next conference blindsided, so I’ll be more confident in myself.”


Antikyan said she felt inspired by the moving personal stories of the accomplished speakers, who shared their experiences with attendees.


“SACNAS provided an eclectic group of speakers, each of whom had their own individual story and struggle,” Antikyan said. “Seeing all the different people who were able to become successful, really empowered me to believe that I could become just as successful too.”


BUILD PODER Community College Trainee Sonia Avila, a psychology major at East Los Angeles College said she recommends SACNAS for anyone in the sciences, especially for minorities and women.


“It was an experience unlike any other,” Avila said. “Students need to be taken out of their bubble and experience another environment. Having different perspectives is key to enhancing your understanding of yourself and of others. That is what this program is about, true diversity.”

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.