As a first-generation college student who aspires to a career as a faculty member, Veronica Garcia didn’t always feel like she belonged.

Spending a few days surrounded by thousands of other students striving for similar goals gave her a big lift. The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Conference last fall was a chance for Garcia to present her research paper entitled, “Examining Mindfulness and Body Image in the Context of Yoga,” but also to connect with a community of peers and leaders from similar backgrounds.

“I was able to present my research in a supportive atmosphere and I felt like I really belonged,” said Garcia, who will graduate this spring with a degree in kinesiology. “At first, I found it difficult to find a support system, coming from a minority background and being a first-generation student. I want to become a faculty member and be a mentor for others like me, to give back to underrepresented groups.”

Garcia is one of several individuals working to revive WSU’s chapter of SACNAS. The aim is to promote the success of undergraduates and graduate students in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM fields. The group aims to unite smaller organizations such as CAMP and McNair Scholars and provide a support network for Chicano/Hispanic and Native American community members.

“There are a lot of smaller groups on campus that are doing great things, but they don’t have the large national, financial support that SACNAS has,” said Raymond Herrera, assistant dean for recruitment and retention in the Graduate School.

SACNAS offers the chance to join a welcoming community of people at all stages of the academic journey.

“I’ve always wanted to bring SACNAS to WSU because I saw the value when I went to the national conference,” Herrera said. “It’s one of the largest diversity STEM conferences in the country with around 4,000 attendees. A lot of it is focused on undergraduates getting into graduate schools and a lot of the students I’ve talked with credited SACNAS for keeping them interested in STEM.”

Herrera, Garcia and other students and faculty met last semester to lay the groundwork for WSU’s chapter of SACNAS. Jenny Zambrano joined the effort shortly after beginning her career as an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences in 2019. She was working on a postdoctoral appointment at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center when she first heard of SACNAS. Zambrano aims to mentor STEM students and provide opportunities and camaraderie that are key to success in school and beyond.

“I was so excited to hear about SACNAS at WSU,” Zambrano said. “The great thing about the program is that it provides support to a wide community. It brings together undergrads graduates, postdocs and faculty, allowing them to connect and understand the challenges and solutions to achieve a career in non-inclusive fields such as science.”

Students or faculty interested in learning more or getting involved in SACNAS can email Herrera or Zambrano for more information and details on upcoming events.