Finding The Way: How Your Network Can Support your STEM Journey

By Daniela Bernal, SACNAS Staff

When I met Kricia Espinoza, a rising physics graduate student, I was struck by the look she gave me when I mentioned Dr. Ellen Ochoa would be speaking at 2018 SACNAS — The National Diversity in STEM (NDiSTEM) Conference. Her eyes widened and a smile quickly spread across her face. “She is my role model!” she exclaimed, adding she had heard of the conference many times but never attended.

Kricia is a DACA recipient. She arrived in the U.S. from El Salvador when she was in elementary school. In our conversation, she shared with me stories of a challenging path in STEM thus far. Immediately, I knew she needed to be at 2018 SACNAS to hear her role model, the first Hispanic woman in space, give the opening keynote.

After some connections on my end, and a lot of hard work on Kricia’s, the recent graduate from Willamette University (double majors in Chemistry and Physics), secured funding to attend 2018 SACNAS and was sitting in the audience as Dr. Ochoa shared her story to over 4,200 conference registrants in San Antonio, Texas.

Weeks later I would ask Kricia what her highlight of the conference was, and to my surprise, it wasn’t necessarily a particular speech or event — it was the people.

“SACNAS attendees are some of the most friendly I’ve ever met,” said Kricia. “The scientists all come in with the understanding that they are there to mentor, create connections, and highlight opportunities. I’ve never seen people more eager to help one another, and it truly inspired me to be that person for someone one day.” In fact, over 1,000 students presented their research, and with the support of 250 mentor judge volunteers, 105 of those students received awards.

Most notably, Kricia recalled the speakers in the Indigenous Physicists: How Our Culture Shapes Our Identity as Scientists session, one of 112 breakout professional development and scientific sessions offered at the conference. “While I’m not Native American myself, their unique struggles and stories of persistence brought me to tears,” she recalled.

Moreover, Kricia made time to network with recruiters and program officers from many of the 467 exhibiting institutions and companies in the Graduate School & Career Expo, leaving with over 50 business cards and several brochures of programs she is eager to apply to in the summer.

These are the goals of the NDiSTEM Conference — to expand your network, highlight opportunity, and showcase diversity in the field, ultimately reminding attendees that there is a path in STEM for them.

“By connecting with scientists who look like me and who share similar experiences as me, I now know I am definitely not alone in this journey,” said Kricia, who is already planning a meet up during next year’s conference with fellow Central American scientists she met this year.

For more information about the 2019 NDiSTEM Conference in Honolulu, or to join the SACNAS community, please visit www.sacnas.org, and follow @sacnas on social media.