Yale SACNAS chapter hosts outreach event for NHPS students
The event featured two graduate students who shared their journeys coming to Yale.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
On Thursday evening, Yale’s chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science — or SACNAS — hosted a virtual event for New Haven Public Schools students introducing them to the society and two of its members.
The introductory event — Yale SACNAS’s first-ever outreach event — gathered around 50 students. Over the course of an hour-long Zoom session, Director of professional development Cecelia Harold GRD ’24 and President Victor Olmos GRD ’25 walked through both of their journeys coming to Yale. Olmos said SACNAS’s hope for the event was to expose students to STEM and inspire them to pursue their own journeys in science.
“[Tomorrow’s talk will] help get students interested in science and show what inspired us, who mentored us and who helped us get to where we are, and really inspire these kids to see our background and hopefully, they may see a little bit of them in us,” Olmos told the News the day before the event.
Throughout the event, Olmos and Harold highlighted the specific work they are currently doing, from research on antibodies to testing mice with diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons. They also explained their personal connections with the work they were doing.
Olmos’ grandfather suffered from Huntington’s disease, he said, which inspired him to turn towards STEM and work at a lab in Stanford as an undergraduate. He later came to Yale to work in Professor Janghoo Lim’s lab, which focuses on genetics. At one point during the event, Olmos responded to students asking questions about Huntington’s by telling them that “maybe one of you will go into science and help my family.”
Olmos also stressed the fact that both of his parents did not finish high school and had him and his sister as teenagers. He told attendees about his life experiences to show them that it was possible to study science at a school like Yale regardless of background, Olmos said.
Harold focused her presentation on growing up “learning about and loving viruses.” She discussed the origin of her love for science, which stemmed from reading books from her hometown’s public library while her sister worked there.
“I really fell in love with reading thanks to my sister, and that’s kind of my first inkling of loving science,” Harold said at the event. “Getting interested in science came from reading books and one book in particular called ‘Peeps’, which were based upon becoming a vampire because of viruses.”
She then traced her journey through Eastern Florida State College, formerly known as Brevard Community College, and Rollins College, eventually leading her to New Haven for her Ph.D.
The event was the culmination of more than a year of planning. Olmos originally worked on projects similar to SACNAS’s event during the summer of 2020 with another Yale group called Yale Open Labs. The organization has hosted multiple events with New Haven students over the last year.
However, SACNAS has a different focus — empowering Latinx and Indigenous people who are in STEM, as Nancy Sanchez GRD ’24 noted.
“A lot of other diversity organizations overlook the fact that we are coming from so many different backgrounds and experiences and that’s why we’re here,” Sanchez, the vice president of SACNAS, said.
SACNAS focuses on building a strong community for graduate students — especially those who are first-generation, Latinx and Indigenous — but the group is open to students of all backgrounds. The organization’s other goal is professional development, aiming to help make graduate school and careers in STEM more accessible. It provides mentorship opportunities for undergraduates, as well as other development events that can help Yale and New Haven students grow in their STEM careers.
Thursday’s event was hosted in collaboration with New Haven-based organization ARTE Inc. and Maria Parente GRD ’07 from the University’s Office of New Haven Affairs, or ONHA.
The event was a part of ONHA’s Pathway to Science program, which works with various organizations at Yale to introduce students in New Haven to STEM careers. ONHA follows what they have dubbed “a scaffolding approach,” where students who are interested in STEM are mentored, including advising on their college applications.
This approach starts with introductory programming like SACNAS’s event, and it builds up into internship and lab opportunities for students.
There are currently 100 students in the Pathways to Science program.