I have a long-held and deep respect for the late civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez. He dedicated his life to empowering people who believed they had no power. Growing up in California’s Central Valley, where Chavez focused much of his advocacy, I have seen firsthand the lives that he improved. It is not a coincidence then, that I have regularly gathered strength and boldness from his actions and have actively modeled my approach for outreach and support to underrepresented minority (URM) communities after his efforts.
My record of outreach and mentoring stems from a central motivation, to give others the guidance and support that was critical for my own success. Below is a list of my contributions to academic diversity, which I am continually looking to add to…
- Member, Diversity Committee for the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. 2017-present.
- Member, external advisory board for NSF grant NRT-DESE-1633299; Interdisciplinary Graduate Training to Understand and Inform Decision Processes Using Advanced Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization. 2016-present.
- Founder and President, SACNAS Stony Brook University Chapter. Description: Started a campus chapter of the national organization, Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. Among other duties, I arranged regular meetings, petitioned funds and planned outreach activities. 2013-2014.
- Graduate Mentor, Community of Student Mentors, Center of Inclusive Education, SBU. Description: As a senior graduate student, I mentored a first-year URM graduate student. 2013.
- Recruiter, Stony Brook Center for Inclusive Education. Description: I volunteered at the SBU booth at national SACNAS meetings in Seattle, WA and San Antonio, NY. 2012 & 2013.
- Invited Speaker, Western Suffolk BOCES summer science program. Description: I spent one day each year speaking at a summer day-camp for URM students from low-income communities. In addition to presenting my research, I assisted students in laboratory exercises. 2008-2014.
I am not a faculty member yet, but I hope to be one soon! This plan gives a glimpse of the approaches that I will take to promote a diverse research environment. My plan consists of the following focal areas:
- Recruitment: My first focus will be to cultivate a productive and diverse research lab that is inclusive to all. To do this, I will leverage all campus resources available to me to attract the brightest and most talented URM biology students and postdocs to my lab. I will work in full cooperation with grant programs that support URM students and ensure that all potential lab members are aware of the funding options that may support their research.
- Retention: Getting traditionally underrepresented students in the door is one thing, but setting them up for success once they are in the lab is quite another. Given higher rates of attrition for URM students in STEM fields (Koenig 2009), I will place an emphasis on assessing my students’ progress and will meet regularly to discuss hardships that they encounter along the way. In this area, my personal life experiences and history of mentoring and outreach, position me to effectively address the unique needs of URM students. In addition to support from their advisors, however, students need a sense of community among their peers. I will educate my students on campus groups that promote interaction among URM students from different disciplines. I can attest that having access to these types of groups (in my case, the Center for Inclusive Education at Stony Brook University) can go a long way to provide a sense of belonging in an academic environment that can be isolating to URM students.
- Early Action/Outreach: Young URM students, especially those from low-income communities, are often unaware of the range of opportunities available to them in STEM. For this reason, I will use outreach to generate excitement for organismal biology among URM junior high and high school students. I will actively seek local schools and organizations in order to reach these students and discuss the innovative research in my lab. I plan to create an atmosphere of service in my lab, where all members will be encouraged to participate in outreach aimed at sparking interest in science for future generations of URM students.
- Broadening My Reach: As the Beatles once sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends”. In order to increase my ability to reach and positively impact URM students, I will collaborate with like-minded people and organizations with similar goals. I will also pursue leadership positions with organizations outside of my home university, where I may gain a support system for my outreach efforts and have a platform to promote the school’s mission for diversity to a wider audience of underrepresented scholars.
Reference: Keonig R. 2009. Minority retention rates in science are sore spot for most universities. Science. 234(5933), 1386-1387.