U.S. Department of Energy

09/17/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/17/2021 12:32

Bringing the Whole Self to Science

Though SACNAS has grown considerably, STEM fields are still much less diverse than the US population, Padilla says. Many people join SACNAS to find a community that is entirely missing from their institutions.

When detector operator Corey Gray was an undergrad, he had no idea there were other people like him in physics. Gray is half Native American and a member of the Siksika Nation, one of the four nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy.

He discovered SACNAS when he was in college, but he began attending with regularity only in 2008, when he and a colleague began going to represent the Hanford Observatory for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO.

Gray describes himself as 'a reluctant science communicator.'

'I'm a little shy or introverted,' he says. 'I'd rather just be out in the lab, turning a wrench or behind a computer, operating a gravitational wave detector.'

But he says he does outreach through organizations like SACNAS to let Native American students know that they aren't alone.

A professor of biological sciences and dean of the College of Science at the University of North Texas, Padilla says she spent many years as the only Hispanic woman in the sciences at her university. 'We now have some associate professors, but if you look for full professors and within leadership positions, you don't see much representation,' she says. 'And we're a Hispanic-serving institution.'

To grow that representation, SACNAS aims to provide networking and mentorship opportunities for members.

Mario Borunda, who is Hispanic, says he saw that firsthand at his first national SACNAS conference, which he attended an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso. 'Going to that SACNAS meeting was really important, because I got to meet somebody that was interested in improving the diversity of their program,' he says.

At the 2010 SACNAS national meeting, Steve Greenbaum, a professor of physics at the City University of New York, saw Borunda's poster presentation. Greenbaum discussed a job opportunity with Borunda and eventually became his mentor as well.

That mentorship was key to preparing Borunda for a faculty position, Borunda says. He says it was invaluable to have someone to ask questions and ask for advice on topics such as how to determine how much funding to ask for when starting a research group.

Borunda is now an associate professor of physics at Oklahoma State University. Since 2013, he has served as advisor for the SACNAS chapter there.