Published January 06, 2020 by Tom Porter

Promoting Diversity in STEM

With support from the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, Bowdoin seniors Brenda Macias and Jhadha King recently flew to Hawai’i to attend a three-day conference on how to encourage greater participation in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

king and macias in hawaii
Seniors Macias (left) and King at the diversity in STEM conference in Honolulu. They received support from the Office of Inclusion and Diversity.

The SACNAS 2019 National Diversity in STEM Conference took place October 31 – November 2, 2019, in Honolulu, attracting more than 5,000 attendees, some students, some working professionals. SACNAS is the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. Over the course of the event, participants are immersed in cutting-edge scientific research and professional development sessions and hear from motivational keynote speakers. There is also a grad school and career expo, along with multicultural celebrations, all within an inclusive and welcoming community of peers, mentors, and role models. 

“I found the experience to be empowering,” said Macias. “I was really emotional and overwhelmed throughout the conference, because I met many scientists and mathematicians who were indigenous, black, and Latino. This was the first time I saw so many of us in one place!” she added. This semester, Macias said she is doing an independent study project on how to teach math in a way that is more "human" and culturally relevant to black and brown students. 

“Attracting and supporting women, first-generation, and students of color in the STEM fields is a huge national challenge,” said Bowdoin’s Senior Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity Michael Reed. Bowdoin is among several institutions of higher learning that have targeted initiatives to address this issue, he added. “Very often, the impetus to pursue STEM work falls upon the shoulders of individual faculty, advisors, and mentors to encourage student participation and persistence. In the case of Brenda and Jhadha, they both were self-motivated to pursue participation in the SACNAS conference.” Reed said he wants other women, students of color, and first-generation students to know and avail themselves of SACNAS and similar opportunities. 

Macias is a math major and education minor, while King is pursuing a coordinate major in math and computer science. Aside from financial support from the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, they also received encouragement and advice from math faculty members Mary Lou Zeeman, James Broda, William Barker, and Michael King.