Ten Boston College students attended the recent National Diversity in STEM Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they presented their research findings and networked with mentors in their desired science fields—an accomplishment made possible by the establishment of a Boston College chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, or SACNAS.

“I like to think we’re [Boston College’s] best kept secret,” said Cristina Cusmai ’24, a Montlclair, N.J., native who is chapter president.

Cusmai expressed pride in being part of a group that enables students to “bring their full selves” into scientific research. As one of the passionate undergraduates present at the NDiSTEM conference, Cusmai was impressed by its foundation of cultural diversity intermeshed with scientific discovery. “Many people were in full traditional dress,” she said, and SACNAS recruiters “held this in such high value.”

BC chapter of SACNAS

Member of the Boston College chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science at the National Diversity in STEM Conference in Puerto Rico.

Much of SACNAS’s mission revolves around preparing underserved populations and their allies for their careers in STEM. Whether through resume workshops, instructions on how to approach STEM faculty with questions, or the BC chapter’s own “Declassified Guide to Research,” SACNAS strives to aid students—whatever their level of knowledge—in advancement in the sciences.

The chapter’s advisor, Biology Department Associate Director Dina Goodfriend, has seen it through every stage of its establishment. The road was rocky, she noted: Creating a SACNAS chapter at Boston College entailed making clear that the society was more than just a “science club” and that allies are invited to participate as well.

“We had to act as a sort of ghost organization,” laughed Goodfriend as she recounted the early days of the chapter in 2019, “but I saw a space in BC that was vacant and needed to be fulfilled.” She emphasized to prospective students that joining SACNAS is an “impactful act for your future and your career.”

Cusmai joined SACNAS as a freshman, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had a considerable impact on campus activities: There were no in-person meetings and any events were held on Zoom. To see the organization grow into what it is today is extraordinary, she said, noting that the chapter’s first general interest meeting of the academic year drew 60 people.

 She also pointed to the many events that SACNAS has organized with the help of STEM faculty, where students are encouraged to talk with professors in a more relaxed setting about their research and how to get started in a lab. These unique gatherings set SACNAS apart as an organization that meets students where they are and equips them with the skills they need to break into the world of science, according to Cusmai.

Goodfriend and Professor and Biology Chair Welkin Johnson agree that faculty involvement in SACNAS events and students’ willingness to enter into conversations surrounding research and inclusivity within STEM have been a boon for the BC chapter.

“There’s momentum here,” said Johnson of the multitude of possibilities available for SACNAS members. To the students and faculty who are interested in joining or supporting the chapter, he added, the organization has one message: “The doors are wide open.”

Meghan Keefe '24 | University Communications | November 2022