RCO OF THE WEEK: SACNAS at UCSF receives national award

Graduate Division

The UCSF chapter of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) has only been around since 2012, but it is already receiving national recognition. At the SACNAS National Conference last Thursday in Los Angeles, the chapter received the SACNAS 2014 Outstanding New Chapter Award.  This was quite an accomplishment given that the year for which they were evaluated saw a large increase from sixty to over ninety SACNAS chapters nationwide.  SANCAS at UCSF members were thrilled.  "Receiving the award was a huge honor. Everyone in the chapter shares a common goal of encouraging and celebrating participation in science amongst individuals from a wide array of backgrounds. A lot of the success we have experienced thus far stems from that shared mission,” said Raul Torres, fourth year Biomedical Sciences student and SACNAS at UCSF President. 

The fact that SACNAS at UCSF received this award, however, is not surprising.  Since its inception by Maria Mouchess, then a postdoc at UCSF, its members have thrown themselves into achieving the mission of the national organization to promote education and scientific training within historically underrepresented groups.  For example, in collaboration with UCSF’s Center for Educational Partnerships, members of UCSF at SACNAS mentored ninth graders at Mission High School through a program aimed at jumpstarting their interest in biology and ensuring their success in the subject.  Additionally, by also inviting these students to visit UCSF labs including the Nikon Imaging Center, the students were able to experience high-level science first-hand at an early age.  “To sustain a real, long-term effect in science education, we think it’s critical to invest early in the process.  However, as a graduate-level only institution, UCSF poses a unique challenge when it comes to performing outreach at the K-12 and undergraduate levels.  Our work at Mission High allowed us to not only mentor a diverse array of students hailing from around the world, but also get them excited about science before they ever even took their first biology class. It was awesome,” said Carlos Rojo, third year Biomedical Sciences student and SACNAS at UCSF Vice President.

Local community colleges and universities have also benefitted from contact with the chapter.  Over the past two years SACNAS at UCSF has been instrumental in forming strong relationships among the SACNAS chapters at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University (SFSU).  This has led to an unofficial Bay Area consortium that has strengthened the ties among the chapters and has provided a mentorship pipeline extending from community college all the way to the postdoctoral level.  This year SACNAS at UCSF has done their part to contribute to this pipeline by holding workshops at both SFSU and UC Berkeley to teach undergraduates how to write scientific proposals in preparation for applying to such fellowships as NSF, and they have exposed community college students to research by hosting CCSF students in UCSF labs. 

Members of the chapter themselves have also benefitted from being affiliated with SACNAS at UCSF.  Since postdocs, graduate students, and other trainees such as student research associates make up the chapter, a mentorship and leadership aspect is inherent amongst its members.  This is ensured through monthly scientific seminars, in which all members get the opportunity to present their research, through social events such as the Fall Fiesta that are open to all members of the UCSF community, and through their annual leadership retreat at Lake Tahoe. 

Given the success that this growing chapter has seen, what is in store for next year?  Rojo sees the Outstanding New Chapter award as an inspiration to continue the chapter’s efforts in full force.  “The national award further confirms that our initiatives are worthwhile and thus motivates us to continue and find new ways to expand the scope of our work,” he said.  Thus, SACNAS at UCSF will continue to focus on its educational outreach in order to get more underrepresented students to enter into research at UCSF.  They also wish to expand their membership, so that they can increase their outreach efforts, and they plan to hold another leadership retreat, as a way to help build the professional skills of its growing membership. 

Interested in joining SACNAS at UCSF?  Visit their website at http://ucsf.orgsync.com/org/sacnas/home or e-mail [email protected].