The Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in STEM provides an opportunity for students to present their research, gain valuable experience, and connect with others passionate about STEM fields. On March 14 – 17, MESA Directors Emilie Hein and Denise Hum accompanied nine Skyline College MESA students to Washington, D.C. to attend the conference. Four students had been selected to share their research, and they all got to network, learn from experts, and explore the nation’s capital.

First-year student Ashley Gutierrez Carreto was inspired by the guest speakers, particularly Dr. Juan Gilbert, computer science professor and department chair at the University of Florida, whose engaging delivery and encouragement for students to take proactive steps toward solutions left a lasting impression. “People like Dr. Gilbert play an important role in inspiring the passion and creativity of the next generation of researchers,” she said.

Camille Catolos presented her research on plant root segmentation methods, which she conducted during a summer internship at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. “It was a rewarding experience because I had the opportunity to discuss my research with others and learn about their research and passions as well!” she shared. Camille won a prize in the undergraduate computer science division for her presentation!

Princess Johanna Eusantos, a first-generation college student, presented her research on the correlation between economic spending in the United States and healthcare inadequacies in underserved communities. “I got to share my findings and implement initiatives to combat this issue — such as sharing my experiences with founding a non-profit,” she said. “The ERN conference has been an empowering catalyst for academic, personal, and professional growth, and I look forward to the journey ahead, equipped with newfound knowledge, inspiration, and a purpose to make a difference in the world of STEM!”

Computer science major Matthew Dacanay enjoyed sharing his project on simulations of X-ray diffraction data, which will be used to train AI algorithms at SLAC National Lab. “I learned so much from fellow student researchers and opened up my career to options outside of California,” he said, adding that he found Washington, D.C., an “awesome, walkable city to explore” with a great local jazz scene.

First-year student Melanie Gutierrez’s experience at ERN helped her realize that “everyone faces struggles, even in their classes,” and that “it’s okay to make mistakes.” She recognized that “some people will discourage you, or it might feel like you won’t be good enough for it.” Still, she emphasized the importance of moving forward despite these challenges and not comparing yourself to others “because everyone’s path is different.”

Physics major Tin Htoo was particularly inspired by a workshop led by David L. Van Vactor on writing a graduate school application. He found Van Vactor’s “insights into writing a compelling application, from highlighting the research experience to telling us to show our compassion for the field and try to be genuine, ” invaluable.” Tin learned “the importance of showcasing not only academic achievements but also [his] personal side” and plans to “follow up on his advice as [he’s] going through [his] own academic advice.

The ERN Conference provided Skyline College MESA students with a supportive environment to showcase their research, gain valuable experiences, and connect with others who share their passion for STEM fields. Their experiences highlight the importance of such opportunities for personal and professional growth and the impact they can have in raising awareness and driving positive change in their communities and beyond.

Article by Abby Alfonso, Ashley Gutierrez Carreto, Camille Catolos, Denise Hum, Emilie Hein, Matthew Dacanay, Melanie Gutierrez, Princess Johanna Eusantos, and Tin Htoo

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