Diversity conference returns after 30 years

By Lana Groves, Michael McFall

The U hopes to bolster its enrollment of American Indian and Chicano/a students by showing interested science students around campus as part of a national conference.

The Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science has gathered more than 2,500 scientists and students for an annual conference that will be held Thursday through Sunday at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

This is the first time in 30 years that SACNAS has chosen Utah to hold its conference, which is designed to encourage students of color to join the scientific field, said to Octavio Villalpando, associate vice president for the Office of Diversity.

The conference officially begins around 4 p.m. today at the Salt Palace Convention Center, where scientists from around the nation will discuss diversity and research projects.

Villalpando said since the conference is in Utah, the diversity office wants to erase the myth that Utah is devoid of cultural diversity and activities. Conference organizers introduced visiting students to various artists from the community on Wednesday night at a kick-off event.

Prospective students will be shown educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math in an tour around campus, in order to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities at the U when choosing a graduate school.

The diversity office wants to make Chicano/a and American Indian students a larger representation in the scientific community, which has been in significant minority at the U, Villalpando said.

In particular, American Indian graduate student enrollment at the U has been habitually low. American Indians account for only 0.6 percent of the total graduate student population, and Latinos only account for 5.2 percent, according to the Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis.

Enrollment of new students is the same story. Last year, only 11 of the almost 1,800 new graduate students were American Indian and only 51 were Latino.

In order to change this, the U is allowing potential students to meet with its researchers and professors today and put a face to the opportunity, said Judit Camacho, executive director of SACNAS.

The U is the only educational institute in the state that the students are visiting. SACNAS chose the campus because of the great reputation in scientific research it has made for itself, Camacho said.

As a prime illustration of this, the kick-off event at the Rice-Eccles Stadium Tower was a speech from Mario Capecchi, a distinguished professor of human genetics who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last year. Capecchi changed his entire schedule to accommodate this event, Villalpando said.

He also said multiple colleges, including health science, nursing, education and engineering, also worked together to ensure that the follow-up visit today promotes the U as a school of opportunity for students.

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