I doubt that I'll ever forget the great experiences I had at the 2002 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science ( SACNAS) Annual Meeting. As an African-American scientist, this conference, which was held in Anaheim, California, 26 to 29 September, certainly made me realize that all underrepresented populations face similar issues. These issues include few minorities participating in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) fields, mentor-mentee relationships, and selecting the right career path. This article describes my own personal experience as both an exhibitor and conference speaker.
In her opening address, SACNAS president, Professor Maria Elena Zavala, explained the meaning of the conference theme--"Community: A Catalyst for Science." "The future of this country is based on the development of all its people, not just some. This is the goal of SACNAS." She followed up by thanking the conference exhibitors and sponsors for their support and encouraged conferees to visit the exhibit hall and to take advantage of the opportunities that are made available to them.
Helping my colleague, Angela Walker, in the exhibit hall I had the opportunity to talk with several students, administrators, K-12 teachers, postdocs, and faculty about the benefits of using the online resources of Next Wave, GrantsNet, and MiSciNet. I was also very pleased to talk with the previous president of SACNAS, Professor David Burgess, and Zavala during the exhibit hall hours. Both informed me that this conference had the largest SACNAS attendance to date, with approximately 2100 registered participants. In addition, I had the chance to share stories and develop alliances with fellow exhibitors from the American Chemical Society, Just Garcia Hill, the National Institutes of Health, and FASEB MARC.
The exhibit hall was clearly the hub of the conference. In addition to all the exhibitors, undergraduate and graduate students presented their research posters there. This gave them the opportunity to further develop their oral presentation skills and to talk with sponsors and exhibitors about funding and research opportunities in academic institutions and government agencies. The exhibit hall also housed a mentoring area for students and faculty. Time slots were available for students and faculty interested in various disciplines--chemistry, ecology, environmental science, and biomedical sciences--to meet. During these allotted time periods, students were encouraged to ask questions about research opportunities and professional development, receiving in return the guidance of principle investigators (PIs) and faculty.
One of the most enjoyable events I experienced during the conference was a Native American blessing. This blessing was given by Henry Hale, a Native American from California. Prior to giving the blessing in his Native language, Mr. Hale informed the audience that he was currently retired after working 40 years and he indicated that he did not have the opportunities to attend college to further his education.
Prior to my own presentation, which focused on the resources available through the Mentors section of MiSciNet, I had the pleasure of attending the chemistry symposium. Faculty and postdocs from various institutions presented cutting-edge research to an audience of approximately 50 conferees. The session was co-chaired by Professor Carlos Guitierrez of California State University, Los Angeles, and Professor George Negrete of the University of Texas, San Antonio. Dr. Juan C. Noveron, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Utah, gave an outstanding talk entitled "Crystal Engineering of Functional Materials--Molecules that Self-assemble into Practical Superstructures." His research combined both inorganic and organic chemistry. It was wonderful!
Finally, I was a panelist in a session entitled "Building Alliances to Increase the Number of Minorities in the STEM Professoriate," which focused on the progress of the NSF-funded AGEP (Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate) Program. Other panelists included Yolanda George, deputy director of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Dr. William Flores, provost at New Mexico State University; Dr. Mario Robles, director of AGEP at the University of California, Irvine; and Dr. Gail Smith, assistant provost at the City University of New York. The panelists' comments focused on the importance of mentoring students and effectively working with other minority programs such as GEM and MARC to increase the numbers of minorities pursuing an education and career in SMET fields.
I truly enjoyed my visit to the SACNAS conference. Not only did I have the chance to experience other cultures, but I also had the opportunity to see some great research presentations and provide conferees useful information regarding Next Wave online resources. This was a great journey!
The next SACNAS conference is scheduled for 2 to 5 October 2003 and will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For further details, please visit the SACNAS Web site.