Alex Mullins is a graduate student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Iowa State University. Mullins completed a B.S. in wildlife biology at Adams State University and his current research aims to understand the distance at which monarch butterflies can detect nectar resources. He recently presented his research at 2019 SACNAS - The National Diversity in STEM Conference.
Alexander Mullins, a master's student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Iowa State University, attended 2019 SACNAS - The National Diversity in STEM Conference from Oct 31 – Nov 2 in Honolulu, Hawaii. SACNAS is the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in STEM.
“I submitted an abstract and a travel award application and was excited when, among thousands of applicants, I was invited to give an oral presentation on my research,” Mullins said.
But when he was notified that he did not receive a travel award, he consulted his local network. Ultimately, his advisers, the Iowa State SACNAS chapter, and the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium contributed to his registration and travel fees.
“I look forward to the SACNAS conference every year because it provides amazing networking opportunities,” Mullins said. “It also is an opportunity to reflect on how far I’ve come and to be grateful to those who have supported me along the way. For me, attending SACNAS allows me to reflect, re-orient my compass and continue on my journey.”
SACNAS is the largest national STEM diversity organization. Its goal is to increase the representation of Chicanos, Hispanics, and Native Americans in STEM fields by fostering student and professional development in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM.
Mullins was first introduced to SACNAS during his undergraduate career six years ago. During that time, he has only missed one meeting. This year’s conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, opened with a Native Hawaiian welcome ceremony and a keynote from the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Each day of the conference was filled with scientific symposia from all STEM disciplines and workshops spanning topics such as science communication, mentorship, succeeding in graduate school and many more. As a graduate student – and the representative for Iowa State’s Graduate Research in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology’s recruitment committee – Mullins also played a role in recruiting students to Iowa State University.
“It was really interesting to be on the other side of the table, engaging with curious students pursuing the next chapter in their academic careers,” he said.
Students can also participate in one-on-one mentoring opportunities with scientists in their field in a workshop entitled, “Conversations with scientists.” After his presentation, Mullins met with several young scientists. He also chatted with another mid-career monarch researcher to exchange ideas and discuss the potential for future collaborations. This is what SACNAS is all about!
“Being in Hawaii brought a valuable perspective to the conference,” Mullins said. “I left with a renewed appreciation of culture, the art of story-telling, and the importance of having mentors both in science and in life.”
The discrepancy between the demographics of the STEM workforce and the general population is widely recognized. Many students from underrepresented backgrounds are discouraged by the lack of supportive role-models. For many, this is enough to keep them from seeking higher education and career advancement.
“If we wish to engage a more representative STEM workforce, we must encourage and support the next generation of diverse talent,” Mullins said.