University’s STEM Scholars Garner Interdisciplinary Experience at National Conference

Thirteen years ago, a lone student from California State University, Dominguez Hills attended the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science’s (SACNAS) National Conference at the urging of biology professor, Laura Robles, now acting vice president of Research and Funded Projects and emeritus professor of biology. This year, 24 research students from the university participated.

With more than 275 exhibits, nationally renowned keynote speakers, myriad research presentation opportunities, and conference programming “specifically tailored to support undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and career professionals at each transition stage of their career as they move towards positions of science leadership,” the SACNAS conference offered an invaluable opportunity to students from CSU Dominguez Hills.

Dr. Leonardo Martinez and Dr. Laura Robles (left, back row) with MBRS and MARC students (from left, front) Arisdelzy Villanueva, Abraham Ruiz, Jose Lara-Ruiz, Destinie Thompson, Donna James, Cassandra Maddux, Atlee Sanchez, Luis Juarez, and Jeff Guevara.

Dr. Leonardo Martinez and Dr. Laura Robles (left, back row) with MBRS and MARC students (from the left) Arisdelzy Villanueva, Abraham Ruiz, Jose Lara-Ruiz, Destinie Thompson, Donna James, Cassandra Maddux, Atlee Sanchez, Luis Juarez, and Jeff Guevara.

Students received financial support to attend the conference in the form of travel stipends from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, SACNAS and, more importantly, from scholarships from the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC), Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS), and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) programs. The programs are funded by the National Institutes of Health and designed to provide mentorship and development for underrepresented students in the biomedical and behavioral sciences to better prepare them for advanced degrees.

The growth in participation is undoubtedly a nod to the faculty members, like Robles, who serve as research principals and mentors to students. Faculty mentors often attend conferences alongside their student research partners.

Accompanying students to the 2013 SACNAS conference held Oct 3-6 in San Antonio, Texas, along with Robles, were Leonardo Martinez, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and program director of MARC and MBRS; Mohsen Beheshti, professor and chair of computer science; Jack Han, professor of computer science; and Thomas Landefeld, professor of biology and pre-health advisor.

Landefeld said participating in conferences such as SACNAS provides much more than presentation opportunities for undergrads from the university who are engaged in research, and plan to continue their education and enter careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.

“Attending a national conference, such as SACNAS, provides a student with an opportunity that cannot be duplicated by anything else, especially for students from underrepresented ethnic groups and teaching institutions such as CSUDH. The students participate in a number of activities, including research and developmental sessions and talks, discussions with representatives from schools, government, industry, and, probably more than anything else, network with others from across the scientific community,” he noted. “The experience itself is exemplary and the resultant effects are long-lasting.”

MBRS scholar Jose Lara-Ruiz.

MBRS scholar Jose Lara-Ruiz.

For students like MBRS scholar Jose Lara-Ruiz, a senior majoring in psychology, the conference experience also has a more immediate effect. He acquired presentation experience with a poster titled, “Using Online Chat to Enhance Subsequent Face to Face Communications,” based on research conducted with CSU Dominguez Hills mentors Louis Mark Carrier, chair and professor of psychology, and Larry Rosen, professor of psychology.

MBRS scholar Donna James.

MBRS scholar Donna James.

“Attending SACNAS was a great experience. Having the opportunity to network and meet scientists in other disciplines is an advantage that many people don’t have. Presenting at my first national conference was also a highlight and something that I really enjoyed,” Lara-Ruiz said.

Donna James, a senior majoring in sociology and MBRS scholar, also presented a poster at the conference. Hers, “Importance of Sexual Health Discussions: Differences in Heterosexual Men’s and Women’s Sexual Health Communication with Close Friends,” was based on research with university mentor and professor of sociology Matthew Mutchler.

“The best thing about my SACNAS experience was being able to meet inspirational leaders of the Native American community, getting helpful feedback about my poster presentation, and being able to interact with students, professors, and professionals in the public health field,” she commented.

 

What other Toros had to say about their experience at the 2013 SACNAS Conference:

“SACNAS was an amazing experience! I met some wonderful (and smart) people from all over the world. The talks were helpful and the networking was fun! Overall, SACNAS was out of this world! I can’t wait until next year.”
Cassandra Maddux, MBRS scholar, senior, biochemistry

“The SACNAS National Conference is the most important conference to attend for college students who want to continue on to graduate school in science.”
Jeff Guevara, MARC scholar, senior, biochemistry

“SACNAS gave me the opportunity to travel outside California for the first time. The experience was marvelous. I would not take one moment back. Attending this conference allowed me to step out my boundaries and allowed me to meet people in my field, interact with people from everywhere (i.e. Hawaii, Alaska, Virginia) and the list goes on. Overall, this was an amazing opportunity.”
— Chelsea McElwee, MBRS scholar, junior, psychology

 

Destinie Thompson, a senior majoring a psychology and a MARC scholar who has attended SACNAS conferences since she was a freshman, is in the process of applying to graduate school. She said, “Being able to meet with [representatives from] graduate schools really opened my eyes to how diverse my psychology degree can be in the future.”

 

What other Toros had to say about their experience at the 2013 SACNAS Conference:

“Attending SACNAS exposed me to the atmosphere of a national conference. The experience was unforgettable and I highly recommend anyone to attend.”
— Abraham Ruiz, MBRS scholar, senior, psychology

 “My experience at SACNAS was great. I really enjoyed the poster presentations and the keynote speaker’s speech. I would like to present my project at the next SACNAS conference. My overall experience was great and the host hotel was very courteous and helpful. I met some great contacts to further my education and future projects.”
— Chaz Johnson, senior, computer technology

“SACNAS has been a great eye opener for me. It really puts a face to all of the research and opportunities that are available to undergraduate students, as well as motivating you to achieve higher learning. From this recent SACNAS conference I have made many connections with mentors and fellow students that will stay with me throughout my academic career.”
— Matthew Roesger, junior, computer science

Dr. Jack Han and Dr. Mohsen Beheshti flank CSUDH computer science students (from left, back row) Chaz Johnson, Matthew Roesger, Boian Kolev, Samori Price, (front row) Reymarie Calazan, Rosalie Tallud, and Amber Cosgrove.

Dr. Jack Han and Dr. Mohsen Beheshti flank CSUDH computer science students (from left, back row) Chaz Johnson, Matthew Roesger, Boian Kolev, Samori Price, (front row) Reymarie Calazan, Rosalie Tallud, and Amber Cosgrove.

Another veteran SACNAS conference participant, along with James and Thompson, who attended this year was Kumar Tiger, a senior majoring in biology and MBRS scholar.

For some students who hadn’t previously considered graduate studies as a next step, attending the conference, themed, “Strengthening the Nation Through Diversity, Innovation and Leadership in STEM,” was a catalyst for bringing new educational possibilities to mind.

“This year’s SACNAS conference was the first one I have attended, and after the experience I had, I wish I got involved with them much earlier. It was truly an inspiring experience. Although, I have thought about grad school before—I was always hesitant because it’s very expensive and requires tons of work—SACNAS really gave me the drive and motivation to get there. … As for the work required, it is evident in the people I met that hard work pays off, so I know it will be worth it!” said Reymarie Calazan, a senior majoring in computer science.

Along with Calazan, CSU Dominguez Hills students participating in a SACNAS conference for the first time were Aldo Alvarez (biochemistry, senior) Victor Canela (former LSAMP scholar, biology, M.S.); Amber Cosgrove (computer technology, senior); Elizabeth Grotemeyer (MARC scholar, biochemistry, senior); Jeff Guevara (MARC scholar, biochemistry, senior); Chaz Johnson (computer technology, senior); Luis Juarez (MBRS scholar, senior, sociology); Boian Kolev (computer science, junior); Cassandra Maddux (MBRS scholar, biochemistry, senior); Chelsea McElwee (MBRS scholar, psychology, junior); Samori Price (computer science, senior); Matthew Roesger (computer science, junior); Abraham Ruiz (MBRS scholar, psychology, senior); Vincent Salazar (MBRS scholar, sociology, senior); Atlee Sanchez (MBRS scholar, biology, senior); Taline Shishoian (MBRS scholar, biology, senior); Rosalie Tallud (computer science, senior); Jose Victorino (Biology M.S.); and Arisdelzy Villanueva (MARC scholar, biochemistry, senior).