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Yale SACNAS chapter wins 2nd award for supporting students underrepresented in STEM

October 15, 2021

The Yale chapter of Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), just entering its fourth year, received its second chapter award at the SACNAS Award Ceremony on October 13. The organization is tasked with supporting underrepresented students in STEM through professional development, student mentorship, and an outreach program to the New Haven community.

The recognition, said Cathy Garcia, a PhD candidate in genetics and Yale SACNAS chapter liaison, “re-affirms that we are doing our best in supporting the SACNAS mission by creating a safe community for diverse students and increasing support for students in STEM.”

The group provides essential support for underrepresented students, said SACNAS president, Aldo Salazar-Morales, a PhD student in biological and biomedical sciences (BBS). “Navigating college and grad school is hard as it is. It’s even harder when you are the first one doing it. We love sharing our experiences and helping the newer generations pursue their dreams. We hope they find inspiration in our journeys.”

SACNAS organizers also inspire local LatinX middle and high school students and their families through a partnership with the organization Arte Inc. which provides youth enrichment and education to New Haven’s Hispanic community. Every year during Hispanic Heritage Month, SACNAS members offer virtual science demonstrations in English and Spanish. “It’s about showing kids that you can be a scientist and that science is fun,” Garcia said.

At last year’s virtual event, almost 200 students attended with their families. Using kits compiled by SACNAS members, students learned about electromagnetism using a battery, magnet, and copper wire, and they made Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid composed of cornstarch and water, to learn about the states of matter.

On October 23, 10:30am SACNAS members will lead another virtual Family Science Workshop. Students will build a stethoscope and listen to their heart rate and learn about the circulatory system and oxygen transport. They will also build an electrical circuit using paper, copper tape, and an LED, learning about electricity, current flow, power, and how to make a closed and open circuit. Salazar-Morales will talk about his research and explain how microorganisms make electricity.

“I have had parents ask me how to get their child to where I am, and I told them that they were doing it by being there for their child and taking them to these events,” said SACNAS outreach chair Victor Olmos, a PhD student in genetics. “They got emotional and said they would keep doing that for their kids.”

Representation matters, said Garcia, both outside and inside Yale. “We’re doing our best to support our members so they understand that they are not alone,” she said. She noted that SACNAS provides a support system, even when the pandemic has prevented them from socializing in person. “We’ve watched movies and decorated gingerbread houses virtually,” she said. Ultimately, she said, that support network translates to a better grad school experience.

As the Yale SACNAS chapter becomes more established, Garcia said they are hoping to expand beyond graduate students in BBS who comprise most of their members to undergraduates and graduates in other STEM departments. “We want to be as inclusive as possible,” she said.

Submitted by Brita Belli on October 15, 2021