New student org offers support to Hispanic students in STEM

April 5, 2021 | UHCL Staff

A student and professor in lab coats at a UHCL science lab
From left, SACNAS President Cecilia Kinghorn and adviser, Prof. Brian Wasko, hope to engage more Hispanic students interested in STEM fields through their participation in the organization.

The Society for Advancement of Chicanos, Hispanics and Native Americans in Science has a growing new chapter at University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Biotechnology Brian Wasko, the org's faculty adviser, said he was a fan of student outreach in science and hoped to engage more with students.

"We are a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and faculty in the Biology and Environmental Science departments were discussing possible culturally responsive teaching grants, and the idea of starting a SACNAS chapter at UH-Clear Lake came up," he said. "This student organization provides a support structure to help advance Hispanic and other minority students in science fields, where they are underrepresented. Since our university is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, it seemed appropriate that we should have a SACNAS Chapter here."

Wasko said he'd written the grant to support the startup of the organization, in hopes of increasing UHCL's Hispanic students' representation in STEM, particularly in the university's research labs.

"The funding also allowed some students to attend the national SACNAS conference and do some networking," he said. "I recruited students out of my classes last fall and found some amazing students to serve as founding officers, and they completed the university's process for sanctioning a student org and have been approved as a provisional chapter with the SACNAS national organization. We've initially had around 30 students show interest, including Cecilia Kinghorn, who was elected president."

Kinghorn, a junior majoring in biological science with a pre-health specialization, said she and her fellow org officers were interested in becoming active in the org because it was new and they had a blank slate to do what they felt would maximize the benefit to the Latino community in the chapter.

"There are not that many leadership opportunities for Latino students," she said. "I was looking for a way to demonstrate leadership at UHCL, and I felt I had a lot to contribute to this new chapter. Dr. Wasko proposed this, and I thought that it fit perfectly with what I want to do. I'm Hispanic and in science, and I want to engage others who feel they fit that description, too."

She said that she and the org's team of officers had decided to have members come up with their own event at UHCL in an effort to provide self-paced leadership opportunities. Completing one event each year till graduation, members would be awarded an honor cord to wear at commencement as a symbol of achievement. 
"We hoped that getting an honor cord would motivate students to become project leaders and participate in events," she said. "The campus should watch for activities they can participate in. We want to engage students in our events."

Kinghorn said her career aspiration is to go to medical school and become and oncologist. "Medical schools look for applicants with leadership experience because doctors are often expected to lead a medical team," she said. "It helps to show you have been an active officer in a student org. I was so excited to put myself out there as a motivator in the Hispanic community in STEM, and I believed doing so as chapter president would accomplish that goal."

Wasko said to be as inclusive as possible, there would be no entry fee to join SACNAS. "We just hope Hispanic and other minority students will be more represented in STEM and can benefit from the support structure and sense of community and belonging that the organization can help provide," he said.

For more information about SACNAS, go online.