Thousands of students, scientists, and university leaders from all over the nation converged in Portland to equip, empower and energize the future of STEM at the National Diversity in STEM Conference (NDiSTEM).
NDiSTEM is the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country. Over the course of the conference, college-level through professional attendees become immersed in cutting-edge STEM research, professional development sessions, motivational keynote speakers, and the Graduate School & Career Expo Hall, as well as multicultural celebrations in a broadly inclusive space that encourages and empowers participants to bring their whole selves to STEM.
The Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, more commonly known as SACNAS, hosted the conference in Portland, Oregon Oct. 26-28, 2023. Attendees ranging from college students to professionals gathered to empower underrepresented individuals in science fields.
According to the Conference organizers, of the 5,645 attendees 53% were Hispanic or Latino/a/x and more than 135 Native American/Indigenous affiliations and 20+ Latin American countries of origin represented.
Wanda Crannell, has been attending NDiSTEM with OSU’s SACNAS chapter since it was re-established in 2012. An instructor and undergraduate advisor who teaches, supports, and enhances the academic, career, and personal development of undergraduate Bioresource Research (BRR) Interdisciplinary Sciences students in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Crannell serves as the advisor for MANRRS and SACNAS. She recognizes the significance of this year’s event marking the 50th anniversary and OSU’s role as presenting sponsor.
Crannell also served as a mentor and judge in the research poster presentations for 10 posters in the Botany and Plant Sciences Division and provided the welcome address at the Chapter’s Award Ceremony.
“I love connecting each year with supportive colleagues, but the best part for me as always are my interactions with students -- locally and from across the country -- working on issues of greatest importance to our society,” Crannell added.
Many others from OSU and the College of Agricultural Sciences played a significantly greater role this year than in the past.
Dr. Luisa Santamaria, Nursery Pathology Specialist at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) led a workshop with four of her peers: Understanding and Managing Plant Diseases: Diverse Approaches and Applications.
The OSU Chapter was also hosted by the fledging Portland State University SACNAS Chapter for a student mixer along with OHSU, and University of Oregon Chapters, further building camaraderie and engagement in our region.
OSU also hosted a breakfast discussion on Climate Health and Environmental Sustainability, where the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Coordinator of Student Outreach and Retention, and Chapter Co-Advisor, Clarisa Caballero-Ignacio, joined a panel of five speakers.
In addition, OSU led a panel discussion titled “A shared Journey: Exploring Best Practices and Strategies for Culturally Inclusive Mentorship in Undergraduate Research” which included Crannell and three others who addressed the importance of mentorship in successful undergraduate research.
The College’s Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Ricardo Mata-Gonzalez also led a field trip for a bus of prospective graduate students, which included three laboratory site visits for students interested in either physical sciences and engineering fields, or earth, environmental and life sciences fields. The tour also visited the Centro Cultural César Chávez and the Kaku-Ixt Mana Ina Haws centers.
OSU’s SACNAS chapter took 28 students to the conference, including eight College of Agricultural Sciences students: Cristian Burke, Estifanos Berhe, Felice Yarbough, Jose Naranjo Mendez, Valeria Coronado, Victoria Flores Parra, Araceli Valdivia-Roman, Roberto Ponce Velez (VIEW Fellow).
Two OSU Chapter students: Jimena Caballero Ignacio, Chapter President, and Victoria Flores Parra, received Chapter Officer Leadership October Retreat (C.O.L.O.R.) scholarships and attended a full day of leadership building with other scholars from across the US.
Some students who have been to previous NDiSTEM conferences described how different this year felt.
According to Victoria Flores Parra, an Animal Science major,
“As an undergraduate senior I felt like I was able to take full advantage of the conference this year, especially the graduate school and career expo. I came in with a strategy this time and started at one end of the career expo and worked myself to the other. It took two days to complete the expo! I was able to talk with potential graduate school and veterinary school programs. Now I just need to do my own research and decide where I want to apply.”
For other students new to the event, like Cristian Burke, a Sophomore in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences:
“As a first-time attendee at the 2023 NDiSTEM conference, I was never so empowered and motivated to continue with my education and pursue my dreams of earning a career in science. I was surrounded by so many bright minded individuals, so many people to look up to. Even as an undergraduate sophomore with little experience, I was never made to feel like I didn’t belong and was only motivated to keep pushing on.”
And Felice Yarbough, a graduate student and Master’s candidate in Wildlife Sciences said,
“I had the absolute best time at 2023NDiSTEM! This was my first SACNAS Conference and I can only describe it as inspiring and joyful. My favorite session was the “Approaching Environmental Justice through Interdisciplinarity in the U.S. Geological Survey”. I was really eager to learn more about this agency, particularly on a topic I’m interested in like environmental justice. Dr. Sheree Watson said a “STEM pathway is a braided river,” and that’s really sticking with me. Looking forward to #2024NDiSTEM in Phoenix, AZ and presenting my research next year!”
Reflecting on his time at the Conference, Burke added,
“The community, the motivation, the information, and the opportunities were truly something else. Never have I ever been more motivated to continue my education and to pursue higher careers in science because of that conference. “
Roberto Ponce Velez, a junior in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences, View Fellow, and CAMP alumni expressed the significance of the NDiSTEM conference for muilticultural students,
“The SACNAS conference was not only a warm welcome into a community of future and current scientists with similar experiences but an opportunity to remove the "armor" that we as people of color wear on a daily basis.”