Faculty, staff, and students from the UNC Department of Genetics and the Curriculum in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB) came together to participate in the 2020 SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) Virtual Conference held October 19-24, 2020. The largest multidisciplinary and multicultural science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) diversity event in the country, the SACNAS conference is a gathering which serves to equip, empower, and energize participants for their academic and professional paths in STEM. Participants included Will Valdar, Associate Professor of Genetics & Director of the BCB Curriculum; Hector Franco, Assistant Professor of Genetics & BCB Faculty Member; Sarah Parker, BCB Graduate Student in the Doug Phanstiel Lab; Ellen Risemberg, BBSP Graduate Student rotating in the Will Valdar Lab; Isai Salas Gonzalez, BCB Graduate Student in the labs of Corbin Jones and Jeff Dangl; Jamshaid Shahir, BCB Graduate Student in the Jeremy Purvis Lab; Dave McDonald, UNC BBSP Director; Debra Ragland, UNC BBSP Assistant Director of Diversity Affairs & IMSD; and John Cornett, Student Services Manager for the BCB Curriculum and the Curriculum in Genetics & Molecular Biology.
“In 2020 more than ever, we are reminded of our responsibility to work harder to equip and encourage the next generation of well-rounded and diverse researchers, counselors, instructors, and physicians.,” said Cornett. “Together we can build community at events like SACNAS and create a more inclusive and stronger space for the future of research at UNC Chapel Hill.” As the Director of the BCB Curriculum, Dr. Valdar reflected on the obstacles and lack of BCB-oriented undergraduate courses of study, “SACNAS for me is an opportunity to spread the word not only about the finer points of applying to the BCB program at UNC, but also introducing students to what kinds of BCB research there is and all the different ways they can be part of it.”