November 22, 2011
Award-winning organization inspires underrepresented students to explore sciences
Back in 2007, when the UW chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) got started, the group had just five members.
Four short years later, the chapter’s regular meetings attract 10 times that many people — all interested in bringing greater diversity to the study of science at the UW. Just now, of the 66 chapters nationwide, the UW’s is the only one in the Pacific Northwest.
Honors have come their way, too. This student-run UW group was named Chapter of the Year in the graduate student category at its national associations 2011 annual meeting, in San Jose, Calif., in October. About 20 chapter members attended among a total of about 30 UW students altogether and more than two dozen faculty and staff, chapter members say.
This follows a similar Chapter of the Year award in 2009 for the 10-19 member category, and the society’s Role Model Chapter Award for Outreach Excellence in 2010.
The 2011 conference now behind them, UW members have already begun planning for another challenge: to help organize the national association’s next annual conference, to be held Oct. 11-14, 2012, in Seattle.
Not bad for a few short years’ work, and all for an excellent cause, stated by the chapter as such: “To foster the success of scientists from diverse backgrounds to attain advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in science” and to “enhance understanding of and appreciation for underrepresented minorities in science.”
The UW chapter of SACNAS meets monthly on campus and its next meeting is from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, in Room S110 of the Foege Building. The chapter has about 30 regular student members — most graduate students — as well as four staff members and five faculty who often attend, said Katrina Claw, who was chapter president last school year.
Claw, a Native American who grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, is now in her fourth year of the UW doctoral program in genome sciences.
Claw said when she arrived at the UW in 2008, “I knew no one and felt isolated. I was the only Native American in my department. And only when I met this awesome group was I able to feel comfortable and see other scientists who were like me and were succeeding also. Its a really great support network.”
She said the annual SACNAS gathering is “a very different conference than anything I have gone to … its really geared at inspiring people to go into science or to reach for higher education — and there are so many people willing to sit down and talk to you about your future, and also to motivate you. And theyre all from similar backgrounds, there are a lot of Hispanics and Latinos, African American and Asian American — a lot of diversity.”
Claw said most of the chapter’s members are in the biological sciences thus far, though they are looking to expand. One of the group’s main goals for the coming year is to include more undergraduate students.
Carlos Catalano, UW professor of medicinal chemistry, is the chapters faculty adviser and frequent mentor. Since the group is run by students, Claw said, his role is often in the background, but “it’s always been a great support for us to know that he’s there to answer administrative questions and guide us when were unsure about who we should contact or what we should do.”
For his part, Catalano joked in an email that his role as adviser is mostly to stay out of the students’ way. “The chapter has been fantastic — completely due to the dedication, energy and hard work of the student membership,” he wrote.
“Because of their success, the chapter is routinely asked to participate in teaching, mentoring, and recruiting efforts at the UW and also outside organizations. They want to do it all and seem to be able to do so. I find myself reminding them that they need to focus on their own education.” Catalano added, “Somehow, they seem to do so and still maintain a high profile in diversity education. Must be the energy of youth.”
Amanda Bruner, a research scientist in the School of Oceanography, earned her master’s degree while a member of the chapter. Bruner is Latina, and notes that being female, too, is to be in an underrepresented population in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.
Bruner wrote in an email that her involvement with the group “has opened a pathway to an academic career that encompasses scientific research, culturally responsive education and increasing public participation in the sciences.”
She and Claw both say involvement with the society broadened their professional horizons and gave them important leadership skills along the way.
The UW and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center will be major sponsors of the association’s 2012 meeting. The UW chapter, Claw said, hopes to organize field trips, receptions and more for the nearly 4,000 students and others coming to Seattle.
Here are some other accomplishments and outreach efforts of the UW Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science:
- Its the first chapter in the associations 38-year history to sponsor and organize a science symposium, a 2008 panel on climate change that featured several UW polar scientists and was attended by about 300.
- The chapter coordinates recruitment efforts at national meetings and established a “UW aisle” at the 2011 conference.
- The chapter has established a partnership with Royal City High School in central Washington, which has a large migrant Latino/Hispanic population, and visits the school to educate students about college admissions and the world of science.
- Chapter members volunteer with area Native American middle and high school students through the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council, which promotes cultural, traditional and educational outreach activities.
- Members of the UW chapter collaborate with units and departments across the campus to promote diversity in the sciences and in student recruitment.
Meetings of the UW Chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science are open to all who are interested in promoting greater diversity in science.
It seems many feel as Katrina Claw do when she said of the chapter, “Really, I think that’s the reason why I have succeeded so much.”
To learn more about the UW SACNAS chapter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the groups website.