The Critical Importance of Organizations Like SACNAS

I’ve been asked by several people, “Why do you want to be President?”  The simple answer is because I love SACNAS. I’ve been coming to SACNAS since the early 90’s. I remember we all fit into one medium size hotel conference room.  When I come to the conferences now, it makes my heart feel so good to see how much we’ve grown and how successful SACNAS has become.

I heard a remark at one of the sessions earlier in the conference that sums it up quite nicely for me,  “Here at SACNAS, you are family”.

Given the time frame, I can’t go into too many details, but please do feel free to come and talk to me afterwards.  Here, I’d like to present you with 3 principles I would use to guide my service to SACNAS: 1) Honor Your Voice; 2) Engage Everyone; 3) Advance Everyone.

Let me explain each of these briefly.

Earlier this year, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education. This annual workshop is the largest outreach activity of its kind in the nation, with the goal of encouraging under-represented students to pursue graduate study. This year we had over 1,000 juniors, seniors and master’s students attending.

One of the main themes I spoke about, is that of belonging or what the author Elizabeth Gilbert calls, “believing that you are allowed to be here”. Too often many of us find ourselves not feeling that we belong in our institutions. In that talk, I suggested several ways that we can as individuals and as a group overcome these barriers.

It starts with having a vision and a voice of your own. Each one of us has a story that we own–whether it’s being a first-generation student, a low-income student, and even perhaps undocumented.  We’ve all had to overcome barriers to get to where we are today. These are powerful stories and collectively they send an even stronger message.

SACNAS has a critical role to play here–in making sure that the rest of the country hears and understands those stories. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to share some of those stories through my time as Dean at my university and my participation on national boards. I would love to use that experience to help out SACNAS and share those incredibly powerful stories in today’s national discussions on diversity.

The two other principles I mentioned earlier were: 1) Engage Everyone and 2) Advance Everyone.

If you read the SACNAS strategic plan, you’ll see that these principles are already embedded in many of the goals. I believe strongly that SACNAS should be an organization that engages all of its members from students all the way up to our most senior members. We all have something to give and I would like to see us develop initiatives to engage everybody who wants to contribute and be a part of SACNAS.

We should also help all our members advance their careers. I’d like to see SACNAS expand its strategies to help members throughout their careers. I like to think of this as SACNAS having a lifelong partnership with all of its members.

Some specific initiatives for example might include:

  • Create a Major Awards Committee to nominate SACNAS members for major professional society prizes
  • Expand the highly successful SLI to include other areas of the pipeline such as mini-courses in Senior Administration, graduate students, and undergraduate students
  • Diversify our funding portfolio to include more foundations, industry, and private endowments

These are just a few thoughts, but what I would really like to do is start a conversation with the SACNAS membership and get your ideas on what you want and what we can do together.

The question of underrepresentation in STEM is such an important one and one that all SACNISTAS are committed to. I recently learned from a New York Times report that Hispanic and black students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago. SACNAS is the nation’s largest multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity organization and as such it is in an ideal place to continue to make critical contributions to the nation, just as it has for the last 40 years.