Mentoring Is What SACNAS Is All About
Finding a mentor is one of the most crucial and least understood parts of a successful graduate school career. Students from underrepresented minorities often face a struggle, particularly in finding a mentor from their own ethnic group. The annual meeting of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is unique among professional scientific organization conferences because it was developed specifically to help minority students focus on higher education. Held each September, the conference has several mentoring activities in addition to scientific symposia.
Informal mentoring and networking occurs at the meeting's many student poster sessions and social events, but there are several formal activities that are integral to the conference's structure. One of these is Conversations with Scientists, which is held after a dinner and keynote address on the opening evening of the meeting. Prominent scientists meet and speak with students and other attendees during roundtable discussions about careers in the sciences, setting the stage for the rest of the conference.
Other formal activities include the Mentoring Room, where students can meet one-on-one with graduate students, postdocs, or faculty. Graduate school application advising sessions provide students with a further opportunity to meet and receive guidance from established scientists.
In addition to the annual meeting, SACNAS has several year-round mentoring activities. One of its premier programs is the Web-based Biography Project, which highlights life stories and professional contributions of Hispanic and Native American scientists, engineers, and mathematicians (http://www.sacnas.org). The project was designed as a resource for K12 classroom teachers to provide a venue for students to learn more about scientists who understand the students' culture. However, the stories are also inspirational for undergraduate and graduate students.
At the Biography Project's Web page, which was recently redesigned and expanded, staff-written biographies of nearly 50 scientists, including six chemists, can be accessed from a list. The biographies can be sorted by scientific discipline, ethnicity, or gender. The website also includes links to related biography projects of women and different minority groups.
For its mentoring efforts to promote diversity in science careers, SACNAS was awarded the 2002 National Science Board's Public Service Award earlier this year. Minority professional societies representing other groups include the American Indian Science & Engineering Society (http://www.aises.org) and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers (http://www.nobcche.org).
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