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SACNAS program promotes diversity in STEM

| Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Saint Mary’s is starting its own chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

Dr. Laura Kloepper, assistant professor of biology, is the faculty advisor for the new SACNAS chapter on campus.

“[SACNAS] is an inclusive organization that fosters the success of these students throughout college and transitioning into a career in STEM,” Kloepper said in an email.

According to the SACNAS website, there are currently 115 chapters around the country. The main purpose of the organization is to aid Latino and Native American college students and professionals in obtaining advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in science, technology, engineering and medical fields (STEM), the website states.

Kloepper first learned about SACNAS from a colleague who started a chapter of SACNAS at another school.

“We began this process [of bringing SACNAS to campus] at the start of last semester,” Kloepper said. “I approached one of my research students to find out if there would be student interest in a chapter at SMC.”

Kloepper said in her email that the student response to her initial proposal has been enthusiastic.

“Saint Mary’s has a pretty large Hispanic population and I think our STEM students have been hungry for an organization like this for a while,” she said. “It’s great to see both the student and faculty [and] staff support for this organization.”

Kloepper also acknowledged that since she introduced the idea, most of the work to bring SACNAS to campus has been student-led.

“From the get-go, a small group of students were very excited about starting a chapter and they took the lead early-on,” she said. “The students have a lot of ideas in the works. Probably the idea that will have the greatest impact is for older students to reach out to incoming freshman and develop a peer-to-peer mentoring system to help these students navigate their first year in college.”

The student leadership team currently consists of junior biology and environmental studies major Marlen Terrazas and sophomore biology major Alexandra Calleros.

Terrazas will be president of the new chapter, with Calleros taking on the role of vice president.

The two student leaders have a specific plan to bring in new students, they said.

“We hope to draw students to SACNAS by creating a personable environment that uplifts any perceived disadvantages we may all share by transforming those perceived disadvantages into what they actually are: a way for us to stand out,” Terrazas and Calleros said in a joint email. “We have the benefit of being unique when applying to grad school, med school, internships. … As Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans, we break uniformity and strengthen diversity.”

Currently there is no Notre Dame or Holy Cross chapter of SACNAS, however, students from both schools are welcome to join the Saint Mary’s chapter.

“SMC is the only SACNAS Chapter in the Michigan area,” they said. ”However, [Notre Dame and Holy Cross students] are encouraged to join ours! We would like SACNAS to make its imprint throughout our entire community.” 

The student leaders said SACNAS’ mission is important both to them personally and its implications for the wider Saint Mary’s community.

“With SACNAS here on campus, we can offer students resources to help them pursue a career in STEM,” Calleros said. “As a first-generation Latina, I have a passion for elevating our representation in STEM, and I am excited to integrate my own experience into the SACNAS leadership here at Saint Mary’s.”

Terrazas added that she feels a responsibility to guide minority students who wish to pursue careers in STEM.

“College is without a doubt one of the most nerve-wracking experiences for any young adult, and I personally feel the need to help incoming Hispanic students in STEM,” she said.

Terrazas and Calleros also stressed the need for SACNAS not only in a college environment, but in the wider world of STEM.

“It is estimated that by 2060, Hispanics will make up 29% of the population,” they said. ”Currently, only 6% of the STEM workforce is comprised of Hispanics. It is important that Saint Mary’s has a SACNAS program to change the face of STEM together. These statistics show a need for institutional support for Hispanic/Chicano and Native American students and we believe that SACNAS can be a driving force in the fostering of this success.”

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