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The IU School of Medicine chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics, and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is a space for members to receive mentorship and explore STEM fields.

Diversifying STEM through the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos, Hispanics and Native Americans in Science

SACNAS students pose for a photo in their white coats

Known for being inclusive and supporting college students and professionals alike, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics, and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) helps its members advance their degrees, careers and positions of leadership in STEM. Formed in 2013, the IU School of Medicine chapter on the IUPUI campus has been a space for members to receive mentorship and explore STEM fields.

Abigail Pajulas, an immunology and infectious disease PhD student, has been a “SACNISTA” since her third year of undergrad after being encouraged by her mentor, Maria Elena Zavala, PhD, to attend a SACNAS diversity conference. It was there where Pajulas saw minority scientists and engineers share their stories and experiences working in STEM.

“The conference inspired me to seek a higher education in hopes of becoming a role model for future generations,” said Pajulas. Seeing the importance of diversifying STEM first-hand, inspired her to get involved in SACNAS first as a member, then as president, and now as vice-president.

Dom Acri is a PhD student in medical neuroscience and president of the SACNAS chapter. He hopes to use this role “to give Chicano/Hispanic and Native American students a platform to launch their research careers to the next level.”

“Whether they are interested in developing teaching strategies or finding new audiences for their research, I believe that SACNAS is a place for diverse voices to come together and connect as a community,” said Acri.

SACNAS members engage their community through multiple activities and opportunities. “Our SACNAS chapter promotes minority recruitment and retention in STEM fields by providing advice, assistance, and opportunities to succeed in STEM. We have hosted Q&A sessions with undergraduate students to discuss graduate school, visited local high schools and county science fairs to perform science demonstrations, and worked diligently to raise funds to sponsor the seminar speaker series where our community can meet and learn from the experiences of a successful minority scientist,” said Pajulas.

In addition, members can join committees focused on professional development, K-12 outreach and service, science communication, and the SACNAS seminar series. Plus, the yearly SACNAS conference provides a great opportunity for IU School of Medicine leaders to recruit students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members. Tara Hobson, MA, Director of Graduate Programs and Students Success, attends regularly for those purposes.

Although not directly involved in SACNAS, Hobson has provided logistical support to the group such as highlighting upcoming events and SACNAS’ guest speaker series along with assisting students as needed. For Hobson, the mission of SACNAS is vital and enables the “IU School of Medicine community to bring all their identities to their work and academic pursuits.”

“The faculty and staff of the Indiana Biomedical Gateway Program (IBMG) make it clear in everything they do that scientific training is holistic – training as a scientist, teacher and citizen. When I first saw the commitment that faculty had to groups like SACNAS, I knew that this was the school for me,” said Acri. IBMG is the entry point for biomedical science doctoral students and provides them with a shared first-year experience that includes a central curriculum, three lab rotations, professional development activities, success services and wellness resources.

“Identities should be recognized and celebrated,'' said Hobson. “The culture and biases that exist can be changed. It is essential to think about how actions, policies and practices, and structures hinder someone’s achievements, contributions, or successes and then embrace ways of change to combat these. Further, we can all work together to have conversations and develop accountability that fosters the kind of change we truly need.”

The support provided by the faculty and staff in graduate medical education truly makes a lasting impact on underrepresented in medicine learners. “Most underrepresented students do not have the means of learning about mentorship, resources, or opportunities. I am motivated to offer my knowledge on how to navigate the sciences because I am a product of amazing mentorship, resources and opportunities,” said Pajulas.



For those interested in learning more or getting involved in the IU School of Medicine SACNAS chapter, email the chapter at Membership is available to anyone at any campus.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Madison Pershing

Madison Pershing is a Marketing and Communications Assistant for Indiana University School of Medicine’s Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity.