In the month of October 2023, scientists, researchers and students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines gathered for the annual National Diversity in STEM Conference by SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science).

As the crisp autumn air descended upon the conference, also known as NDiSTEM, so did a sense of opportunity, collaboration and growth. This conference, held at a pivotal time in the world of science and academia, emphasized the importance of connection and collaboration for personal and professional development.

The SACNAS conference has long been recognized as a catalyst for academic and professional growth. This year was no exception, as it brought together more than 6,500 students, faculty and scientists from various universities, industry and government agencies, eager to share their knowledge, experiences and research. With an emphasis on the power of diversity and inclusion, it is a platform that bridges cultural and academic gaps, opening doors for those who may otherwise face barriers.

CSUSB was well represented by four biology department faculty – Michael Chao, Heidy Contreras, Joseph Heras and Anna Zelaya – and about a dozen undergraduate and graduate students.

“My first SACNAS meeting was in 2006 when I was a master’s student at CSULA, and I strongly felt the comradery of the SACNAS community,” Heras said. “Now, as one of the faculty mentors for the SACNAS chapter here at CSUSB, I was excited to help introduce a new generation of students to this extensive network of academics and working professionals at the SACNAS NDiSTEM conference in Portland, Ore. It was clearly evident that our students were left with a positive experience and impression of the SACNAS community.”

CSUSB students shared their research through poster presentations, and the university’s new SACNAS Chapter was recognized at the awards ceremonies for chapters. David Murillo, an undergraduate majoring in chemistry said, “NDiSTEM is a place to celebrate cultural experience, develop professionally, catch up with old friends, and make new ones. There aren’t many places where you can present your research wearing a tejana and botas. It was a blast.”

In addition to our students and faculty, Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and a life member of SACNAS, attended the conference.

“This conference is an ideal place to recruit excellent STEM students and faculty from diverse backgrounds,” Pantula said. “It is an energetic, entertaining and enthusiastic conference that trains future leaders in science.”

He served as a volunteer for selecting poster presentations, helped select travel scholarships, and served as a judge at the conference for evaluating poster presentations. He also had the opportunity to be a mentor for a couple of students at the conference, discussing how to navigate their first conference attendance, network and learn about graduate programs. He chaired a networking lunch for mathematics and statistics faculty and students.

SACNAS promotes inclusivity, diversity and mentorship, creating a supportive ecosystem where everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive.

Attendees left not just with a greater understanding of the latest advancements in science, but also with a renewed sense of purpose and a network of allies in their academic and professional journeys.

“We hope more of our students join our new SACNAS Chapter and benefit from the network of opportunities SACNAS and the annual conference provide,” said Pantula.

Students who are a part of the Science Success Center get free membership to SACNAS by request.