Bowdoin STEM Students Present, and Get Inspired, at Diversity Conference

Jorge Gomez ’18, Cindy Rivera ’18 and Louis Mendez ’19 at the SACNAS conference in October

Three students from Bowdoin — Jorge Gómez ’18, Louis Mendez ’19, and Cindy Rivera ’18 — recently presented their research at The National Diversity in STEM conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is hosted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

Rivera, who received a travel scholarship award from SACNAS to attend the conference, also won an award from the organization for outstanding undergraduate poster during the conference’s closing ceremony. A neuroscience major and English minor, Rivera focuses her research on lobster neuropeptides. “I work within the field of analytical chemistry and use mass spectrometry for characterization of these peptides, and this year, my honors project will focus on using these identified peptides and testing them on lobster hearts,” she explained.

Gómez’s research involves predicting how chemicals that contain cationic anime groups stick onto solid phases such as soils, thereby remaining in the environment. He is a chemistry major and Japanese minor. Mendez, a neuroscience and government major, worked this summer to develop novel techniques to remove specific proteins from lobster brains and to locate them using mass spectrometry analysis.

Gómez said the conference gave him an invaluable opportunity to network and interact with students and professionals all over the United States who, like him, are part of an underrepresented minority group pursuing science. “It was so inspiring to get to hear everyone’s research as well as their stories to get to where they were,” he said. He added that it was “satisfying to communicate with people who understood the struggles that many people of color face when trying to succeed in a field that places them in a small minority.”

Rivera also remarked on how inspirational the three-day event was for her. “During the conference, there were many opportunities for networking, and just talking about how sometimes it’s really easy to get ‘impostor syndrome,’ where we feel we don’t belong because there are not many people like us. Latinas with a PhD make up .5 percent of the U.S. population, so you can see where the doubt arises,” she said.

Besides offering many workshops, the conference invited prominent scientists to give talks about their work, including Yajaira Sierra-Sastre, who is on her way to becoming the first female Puerto Rican astronaut; Henry H. Fowler, of the Navajo Nation, who is the chair of mathematics, physics and technology at Dine College; Tyrone B. Hayes, who is chair and professor of the integrative biology department at UC-Berkley; and Mario Capecchi, a Nobel laureate and distinguished professor from the University of Utah School of Medicine.

“SACNAS gave me the right motivation to continue to pursue a degree in the sciences and reaffirmed that I, too, one day, can become a leader in a STEM field,” Gómez said.

Rivera urged other students to consider going. “The conference was a truly unforgettable experience that I think more students should be encouraged to be a part of,” she said.

Elizabeth Stemmler, who is Bowdoin’s James Stacy Coles Professor of Natural Sciences in the chemistry department, advises Rivera and Menez. Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Dharni Vasudevan advises Gómez.

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