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MBARI participates in 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM virtual conference

MBARI participates in 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM virtual conference

Long Beach, California, artist Miranda Villanueva created Nuevo Mundo as the logo for the 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM virtual conference. Blending elements of southern California’s indigenous Tongva People, the city seal of Long Beach, and science, the piece represents the historical transformation of Long Beach and the impact of the SACNAS community across all sectors of STEM. Image: © 2020 SACNAS

Last week, MBARI staff joined students, scientists, and engineers from across the country for the 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM virtual conference, hosted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, or SACNAS.

The annual conference is the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) event in the United States. MBARI is proud to support SACNAS and its work to build greater representation in STEM. MBARI welcomes diversity and understands that it makes the community stronger and richer, benefiting our understanding of ocean health. The diversity of disciplines, backgrounds, and perspectives among staff is vital to MBARI’s work.

Originally planned as an in-person event in Long Beach, California, the 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM conference pivoted to a virtual format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Participants weren’t able to connect in person, but conference organizers remained committed to equipping, empowering, and energizing participants for academic and professional paths in STEM. The six-day virtual conference welcomed a record 5,600 participants for a unique blend of STEM, culture, and community with an agenda of keynote presentations, professional development sessions, student research presentations, and cultural celebrations.

With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing an in-person event, the 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM conference went virtual. A digital booth highlighted MBARI research and a virtual meeting room helped MBARI staff connect with conference participants across the country. Image: © 2020 SACNAS/MBARI

MBARI hosted a virtual booth in the Graduate School and Career Expo Hall. Conference participants were able to chat with MBARI researchers about our pioneering work in ocean science and engineering, such as mapping “snot palaces” with lasers and using machine learning to study sounds underwater. MBARI staff were also available for one-on-one meetings with conference participants to offer advice on navigating graduate school and career opportunities in science, engineering, education, and science communication.

The virtual format didn’t dampen MBARI researchers’ excitement to connect with students. “What I found so compelling this week was the level of enthusiasm and engagement with students through this new, and sometimes challenging, online conference format,” said Senior Software Engineer Danelle Cline. “They always quickly responded to requests and shared their research interests and academic goals just as freely as if we were in-person. I hope somehow that I guided them on their journey to success. It was a reminder to me that these bright, young students who are our future can overcome not just the diversity challenges, but also the challenges we face amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic.”

Research Technician Megan Bassett welcomed 2020 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM virtual conference participants to MBARI’s virtual booth, helping build awareness for STEM career opportunities at MBARI. Image: © 2020 MBARI

MBARI researchers were eager to share their experience pursuing careers in STEM with undergraduate and graduate students during the virtual conference. “Chatting with students is one of the highlights of attending conferences,” said MBARI Research Technician Megan Bassett. “I’m always impressed at the caliber of work being conducted and the level of professionalism. It’s encouraging to see the next generation of scientists and engineers and the life it breathes into our field.”

SACNAS has more than 8,200 members and an extended community of supporters numbering more than 29,000 individuals. For more than 47 years, the organization has worked to foster the success of Latinx and Native American college students and professionals in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and leadership positions in STEM.

The virtual booth also provided an opportunity to highlight STEM career opportunities for college students and young professionals in particular. “For me, it’s important that MBARI participate in outreach efforts focused on our next generation. As professionals, we can play a transformative role in the career trajectory of a student through our summer internships, a postdoctoral fellowship, or simply putting a face to a profession,” said Bassett. Bassett was a summer intern herself in 2017 before joining the MBARI team as a research technician in the video lab. She also helps run the summer internship program with Senior Education and Research Specialist George Matsumoto.

2016 MBARI summer intern Bryce Corbett worked with MBARI Senior Scientist Francisco Chavez to use environmental DNA (eDNA) to examine the distribution of zooplankton in Monterey Bay. Image: © 2016 MBARI

Each year, MBARI hosts summer internships, which pair undergraduates, graduate students, and educators with MBARI staff for a 10-week research project. MBARI’s summer internship program attracts an international pool of applicants. Past interns represent a variety of different backgrounds, experience, and education. Approximately 17 percent have come from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in STEM.

The SACNAS virtual conference provided an opportunity to catch up with former MBARI interns, like Daniel DeLeon. While studying electrical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, DeLeon interned at MBARI with researchers Danelle Cline and John Ryan. During his time at MBARI, DeLeon leveraged his passion for music in his work to analyze the rich underwater soundscape captured by a hydrophone on MBARI’s Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) cabled observatory. Now, he’s pursuing a masters degree at Oregon State University with Senior Research Professor David Mellinger, a former MBARI postdoctoral fellow.

Applications for the 2021 internship program will open in late November. Applications must include a cover letter—with research interests/goals (both general and specific to MBARI), complete contact information, relevant coursework and grades received, and the project of interest—curriculum vitae, and three letters of recommendation.

Former postdoctoral fellow Sam Urmy worked with MBARI Senior Scientist Kelly Benoit-Bird to study predator-prey interactions in deep scattering layers. Image: © MBARI

MBARI also invites applications for postdoctoral fellowships in biological, chemical, and physical oceanography, marine geology, and ocean engineering each year. Current postdoctoral fellows work in diverse fields, from studying larval dispersal in the deep sea as part of MBARI’s pioneering long-term research at Station M to leveraging innovative and immersive communications techniques to inspire wonder and appreciation for the ocean.

Applications for 2021 postdoctoral fellowships are now open. Applications should include a curriculum vitae, at least three professional letters of recommendation, a succinct statement of the applicant’s doctoral research, potential research goals at MBARI, and the supplemental online information form. Applicants may list up to three potential sponsors, principal investigators, or principal engineers and are encouraged to communicate with potential research sponsors for guidance on project feasibility, relevance to ongoing research projects, resource availability, and expected start date. Applications must be submitted by January 20, 2021.

Article by Raúl Nava

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