Wesleyan’s Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter is inspiring the next generation of scholars to dig into the world of science and lend a hand to energize the young crop of students that will follow them.
SACNAS, led by Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry Tere Padilla-Benavides and a group of student officers, is dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion in the sciences and helps to foster the success of underrepresented groups in STEM. The group’s mission is to show students from underrepresented backgrounds that a career in science, or an adjacent path, is possible. SACNAS hosts workshops, talks with industry professionals, helps students go to regional and national conferences, and does outreach with K to 12 students.
“We like to promote networking among diverse communities so students can have potentially external mentors as they move in their careers,” Padilla-Benavides said.
Wesleyan SACNAS President Michael Quinteros ’24, molecular biology and biochemistry major, has been a member of the organization since Padilla-Benavides brought it to Middletown in 2021. He and other SACNAS board members have helped to build the group to over three dozen members, many of whom participate in their frequent lectures with visiting scientists, and outreach activities.
The lecture series offer students the opportunity to come face-to-face with success stories of faculty researchers from underrepresented groups. SACNAS sets aside time in each lecture to allow for questions so that its members can learn more about each visitor’s path, and in turn how they might follow or forge their own paths.
“Being able to understand their life story and see where they come from really does serve as a big motivator,” Julissa Cruz Bautista ’25, Wesleyan SACNAS secretary, said. “Especially with speakers that have been affiliated with SACNAS and know the struggle of being first gen.”
Padilla-Benavides makes sure that students have a window into non-faculty roles in science too. “We have all these folks that are also underrepresented to provide experience and advice on alternative careers,” Padilla-Benavides said.
Regional and national SACNAS conferences serve as another touchpoint for members to engage with other students and professionals in the field. Cruz Bautista described the experience as personally affirming.
“I didn’t only take away being a part of the scientific community and learning more about different research that’s going on, and meeting different mentors, but I was able to see people that looked like me, it’s not every day where I can relate or speak in Spanish,” Cruz Bautista said.
Several SACNAS members who have done scientific demonstrations at local elementary schools, and a karate school, to expose students to the subject at an early age. Quinteros said the group of SACNAS students taught the karate class about the COVID-19 virus and how vaccines work—Padilla-Benavides’ lab researches some of the virus’ proteins.
“I didn’t have quite that figure when I was younger,” Quinteros said. “I think that’s another thing that motivates me, to be that person for somebody else.”
Wesleyan SACNAS is seeking volunteers for an outreach event at Middletown High School on April 26, from 2 to 4 p.m. The chapter’s spring events and regional meetings will be announced soon on its Facebook page.