A group of seven Skyline College students from the MESA program were able to attend the National Diversity in STEM (NDiSTEM) Conference in Portland, Oregon alongside MESA co-directors Emilie Hein and Denise Hum from October 26 to October 28.

Kadae Aung, Leonardo Calle, Camille Catolos, Simon Herrmann, Codie Lai, Aaron Torres Mendoza, and Eslin Villalta had opportunities to attend workshops, network with other students and scientists from around the country, and even explore the city of Portland with its vibrant fall-colored sceneries.

Codie, who had received a travel scholarship from SACNAS, and Simon were able to participate in a poster session to present their projects.

It was an enriching experience for everyone, with many takeaways.

Kadae Aung: “During the SACNAS conference, I interacted with several professionals in STEM fields. I engaged in insightful discussions with professionals and graduate students from various fields, not just my major, data science, but also other areas of study. This allowed me to explore other STEM majors of interest. For instance, I conversed with a Ph.D. student pursuing Applied Mathematics, learning about the academic rigor involved. I also had a meaningful discussion with a Mechanical Engineer Graduate in the Navy who will serve on a Nuclear Submarine Vessel after completing his Special Candidates Officer Training. I even spoke with a CIA representative; I felt probed, but it was understandable given the nature of their job. These are just a few of the many people I connected with. Furthermore, I initiated conversations with representatives from multiple universities about opportunities I wouldn’t have known of if not for SACNAS. Their personal academic journeys, careers, and available opportunities were inspirational. One key takeaway from the conference was the importance of networking in the STEM field. I understood that making professional connections can lead to unadvertised opportunities. Consequently, I collected multiple contacts and information about out-of-state universities to consider.
This conference experience has inspired me to seek internships and hands-on experiences in my field actively. I also plan to focus on building a robust professional network and attending more such conferences to stay current with STEM trends and expand my connections. The career expo at SACNAS was particularly beneficial. It provided an overview of various STEM career paths and offered the chance to network with potential employers. It also reinforced my commitment to my education and the pursuit of graduate school. I also had the chance to explore Portland, Oregon. This was my first visit to both the state of Oregon and the city of Portland. It marked the third state and sixth city I’ve visited. In conclusion, the SACNAS conference was a valuable and enriching experience that offered important insights and connections. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”

Leonardo Calle: “SACNAS allowed me to discover new research projects taking place in universities across the U.S., and connect with the authors of these research projects.”

Camille Catolos: “Attending the SACNAS conference opened doors for me to connect with professionals from all backgrounds. For example, I talked with representatives from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit that provides a space for collaboration among scientists to address issues like climate change. Before the conference, I was unaware of such organizations, and discovering them was truly inspiring. Specifically, I talked with a representative who shared their journey as a Latinx scientist and their commitment to addressing community-specific challenges. It made me realize the potential to leverage my technical skills and background to contribute to a better future. The conference provided a rich learning experience, allowing me to interact with researchers in my areas of interest, especially in computer vision. I learned about numerous internship and fellowship opportunities that I intend to pursue. Overall, the conference enhanced my understanding of STEM and provided valuable insights to guide my future decisions for personal and professional growth.”

Simon Herrmann: “I was able to meet the Department of Energy Director of Research and Technology I learned about a linear algebra algorithm called the canoe paddle. It was a very complex numerical pattern that related back to the Fibonacci sequence, which I thought was very fascinating. As a result of this conference, I will reach out to the connections I made and apply to the internship opportunities I found. The conference was an enriching experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity. It is a great place to learn from others and get an opportunity to share what you know.”

Codie Lai: “One of the highlights from the SACNAS conference was talking to an astronomy educator/diversity coordinator, who told me about the NASA ambassador program to help NASA’s outreach on a more local level. I learned that you could volunteer at labs at various schools to gain experience that is not through a formal internship. As a result of this conference experience, I am more inclined to do more research. Not only that, but I will be reaching out to those that I talked to and met with during the conference. Overall, I thought this conference was fun both as an attendee and presenter. Being a presenter was fun because I got to talk and share my research with everyone there. The atmosphere was not intimidating; it was comforting and open. It was also beneficial with future planning and main grad school for me as I did not consider it that much until now. I was exposed to an overwhelming amount of people and opportunities that I had known about. More importantly, the people at the conference were the biggest highlight as they were all welcoming and like-minded due to being a part of STEM, and it all just brought a sense of community.”

Aaron Torres Mendoza: “I talked with many professionals from different STEM organizations. They shared many insightful internship opportunities for a student like myself who is a DACA recipient.
I learned that as a Mechanical Engineering major, my studies can be applied to many of the medical and bio-engineering fields presented at the SACNAS conference. I will reach out to many of the connections that I made to gain more helpful information and opportunities that will fit my education plan and future career. The conference overall was a great networking experience. It was inspiring to meet others like myself with similar interests in STEM doing amazing research opportunities.”

Eslin Villalta: “At the recent SACNAS conference, I engaged with inspiring peers whose journeys in computer engineering intersected with fields like medicine and agriculture, broadening my career perspective. Their resilience has motivated me to adopt a multidisciplinary approach in my studies and work. I’ve learned the vast potential of my field beyond traditional computing and am inspired to explore how technology can contribute to societal advancement. As a result, I’m committed to seeking research that challenges boundaries and participating in mentorship to get support from others. This experience has catalyzed my determination to keep going and innovate with intention.”

Check out their video testimonials to hear more about students’ experiences at SACNAS.

If you were not able to go to SACNAS this year, no worries! You can still enjoy some of the benefits of the conference by visiting the 3rd floor of Building 7 (between the STEM Center and the MESA Center) and check out the wall of STEM internship opportunities the MESA co-directors were able to bring back. For help submit your applications, an internship workshop will be take place on Thursday, November 30 at 1:00 pm in the MESA Center, so make sure to come by and get some help, as needed.

Article by: Kadae Aung, Leonardo Calle, Camille Catolos, Simon Herrmann, Codie Lai, Aaron Torres Mendoza, Eslin Villalta, Emilie Hein, Denise Hum

Photo credit: Emilie Hein

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *