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Student club EMUS (Ethnic Minorities United in STEM)

Student clubs build communities of diverse scientists

By Grace Peterman

Ethnic Minorities United in STEM (EMUS) is a group of graduate students at Oregon State advocating for increased visibility of people of color in STEM fields

Science is both communal and diverse, the result of many perspectives coming together to solve a problem. Some of the biggest scientific discoveries in history came from people who approached ideas from different angles. Differences make for better science. At the same time, women and people of color (POC) still make up a minority of the STEM workforce.

Part of the College of Science’s mission is to ensure that all students can see themselves succeeding in STEM. Student clubs geared towards historically underrepresented groups, including women, POC and LGBTQ+ individuals, are a valuable piece of that mission. Many of these clubs include allies as well, because creating a healthy college climate requires everyone to be on board.

In these clubs, members build social support systems, develop professionally and reach out to local communities. They’re also transforming how we approach and teach STEM today. Change, like science, is an endless cycle of asking questions and seeking answers. As always, our students are taking charge of the process, together.

Finding your voice and being heard

Student clubs are a place to build friendships in a warm, encouraging atmosphere. Former club officers Juriana E. Barboza Sagrero and Luis Garcia-Lamas (Mathematics ’22) gave the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) glowing reviews.

“For me, it created an environment where I could be myself and express my culture,” said Barboza Sagrero. Garcia-Lamas added, “I really felt like a lot of people wanted to be there. There was a clear purpose of the club in my eyes, and that was to be a community for each other, and to help each other grow.”­­­

Out in STEM (oSTEM), which supports our LGBTQ+ students, is also known for its positive, welcoming inclusivity, as a queer space queering expanding STEM culture. Lincoln Worley, oSTEM’s outreach officer, said that the group has been “an absolute blessing” to them, adding that it’s a “powerful resource” at Oregon State, “by allowing queer students a say in what kind of Other they want to be.”

Being a student who is underrepresented in STEM can come with some difficult experiences, and student clubs are a safe space to process them and come out thriving on the other side. “There were typically five or less women or POC in each of my classes, which can be very intimidating,” said Kasey Yoke (Physics ’21), recent president of Physicists for Inclusion (PhIS). “When I discovered PhIS, it felt like I had finally found a place where I would be heard, where I could voice my ideas and concerns.”

 Shumpei Maruyama is a coral cell biologist and Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State

Shumpei Maruyama is a coral cell biologist and Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State

Finding folks who are on a similar educational journey can be particularly helpful for multicultural international students relocating to Oregon State. Shumpei Maruyama, Ph.D. candidate in integrative biology and former officer of Ethnic Minorities United in STEM (EMUS), said “EMUs has highlighted for me the importance of community in science. People who feel isolated because of ethnicity, culture, and race, anything, face an uphill battle in bringing out their best work"— as a social lifeline, he said, clubs aid both emotional health and academic performance.

Ultimately, clubs are a vital part of the process of bringing equity into reality. “There is power in telling our stories to each other,” said Branwen Schaub (Ph.D. Mathematics ’21), who served for three years as president of OSU’s Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) student chapter. In a field that’s been historically dominated by men, “we’ve all had some sort of similar, inequitable, experience in mathematics. Knowing you are not alone makes you feel braver in speaking out.”

Training diverse global leaders

From a foundation of shared experiences, clubs empower students to embrace career growth opportunities. Both SACNAS and the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) host annual national conferences where students present research and network with peers, medical professionals and science educators.

“I was able to meet so many organizations that were very interested in my background,” said Luis Garcia-Lamas of the event. An incoming senior mathematics major, Garcia-Lamas has gained a wealth of leadership experience in his time at Oregon State, serving as VP of SACNAS and president, VP and treasurer of the College of Science’s Actuarial Science Club, tutoring with our TRiO program and working as a CoS peer advisor.

Luis Garcias-Lamas majors in Mathematics with minors in Actuarial Science, Computers Science, and Statistics.

Luis Garcias-Lamas majors in Mathematics with minors in Actuarial Science, Computers Science, and Statistics.

The MAPS conference persisted virtually during the COVID pandemic, with over 100 online participants. “It was a huge success, and I was very proud to have taken a part in planning it and making it happen,” said former club member Shahad Almahdi (BioHealth Sciences ’21), who is currently in medical school at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad, Iraq.

Participation in MAPS was instrumental to her professional development at OSU: “I was able to learn how to find connections and maintain them, but most importantly, MAPS taught me how to be confident with my academic skills, educational background and how to share it all with the world.”

Shahad Almahdi (BioHealth Sciences ’21).

Shahad Almahdi (BioHealth Sciences ’21) aspires to be a pediatrician.

Spreading inclusion por todas partes

Sharing talent, energy and resources through community outreach is key to all of our of our student clubs. Members of AWM and PhIS inspire the next generation of women in STEM at Discover the Scientist Within (DSW), an event bringing interactive learning activities to girls in middle school. “It might seem small, but an experience like that can totally change a kid’s perspective on what mathematics is, and who does it,” said Schaub.

STEM can be intimidating to anyone, and all the more so for women and people of color starting off in science classes. Informal education events like DSW can rewrite that story, to demonstrate that everyone can make science their own and, as PhIS officer Christian Solorio put it, “get excited about the physics that’s happening all around them.”

SACNAS sponsors outreach through Mi Familia Weekend, an annual event for Latinx families and students, with its members acting as ambassadors to welcome hundreds of Hispanic students and their families to campus. A volunteer for the weekend of speakers, workshops and performances, Luis Garcia-Lamas said it was “very satisfying to serve the community” — and that the bilingual presentation of the event went a long way towards assuring the families felt comfortable. “I really appreciate the openness and the mission,” added Barboza Sagrero. “SACNAS is an amazing club.”

Juriana Barboza Sagrero

Juriana E. Barboza Sagrero is currently a graduate student in the Oregon State Master of Public Health program

Reimagining STEM inclusivity

What might science look like today, if diverse peoples and perspectives had always been so welcomed into the mainstream narrative? Two newly reactivated Oregon State clubs are exploring what it means to make science truly multicultural: American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES) and Traditional Ecological Knowledge Club (TEKC) support our Native American and Indigenous students, building bridges between STEM and Native traditions.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is information about ecosystems and natural resource management that Indigenous communities have been collecting for centuries and applying to a sustainable lifestyle. TEKC advocates for Oregon State science courses that include this Native knowledge. The club will hold the first National TEK Summit next spring, bringing together Tribes, Tribal people, Indigenous scholars and allies, according to club chair Lara Jacobs.

Similarly, the PhIS club is spreading equity through training critical thinking on human dimensions of the discipline. In its one-credit Social Topics in Physics (STiP) course, students analyze articles through the lens of social issues, learning that strong science must account for bias arising from factors like the researcher’s gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.

Christian Solorio is Treasurer of PhIS and a Physics Education Research Ph.D. student

Christian Solorio is Treasurer of PhIS and a Physics Education Research Ph.D. student

PhIS officer Christian Solorio, also a Ph.D. student in Physics Education Research, explained one example STiP looked at involving crash test dummies, which are typically built to reflect the body shape and muscle distribution of an average male. “That has great impact on the results they get out of crash tests,” he said. “There have been instances where a design that was relatively safe for someone with the body shape of a man was not safe for someone with the body shape of a woman.” Through reading articles and critiquing them together, students hone their ability to spot bias, making their own research and post-college careers more accurate and more equitable.

Casting a bold vision for the future

Our students are bringing the same innovation they apply to research and outreach to question how we think about and teach STEM today. For a more an accessible future, we must dig deep to analyze the dynamics that created representation disparity in the first place.

One of those dynamics is the depiction of science and math as intellectual gatekeepers: difficult subjects designed to separate “smart” students from the “not smart.” This false dynamic can push away people of minoritized identities who face sexism, racism and ableism on a daily basis.

In reality, science is for everyone: we all do it every day, whether we realize it or not. Eventually, “cooking and textile arts passed from mothers to daughters will be acknowledged as practical chemistry and engineering,” said oSTEM outreach officer Lincoln Worley.

Branwen Schaub (Ph.D. Mathematics '21)

Branwen Schaub (Ph.D. Mathematics '21) reimagines math education

“I think we are in the midst of a fairly radical shift,” said Branwen Schaub. Having recently defended her thesis on mathematics education, she asserted that math is an art form, and that by reconnecting to its humanistic foundation and “recognizing power dynamics, marginalized identities, mental health,” we can expect lasting participation from diverse STEM students.

Our student clubs play a key role in creating a College of Science where everyone is empowered to succeed. But the fight for diversity, equity, justice and inclusion is far from over — “We need to change structures and systems,” said Solorio. “It’s something we all need to actively challenge ourselves to improve.”

The College of Science’s Diversity Action Plan aims to do just that, translating extensive community feedback into changes to be implemented starting Fall 2021. Part of the plan is to establish support for student clubs such as the ones described here.

We hope the result will be a burgeoning student body whose excellence continues to astound the world, believing that, in the words of former EMUS officer Shumpei Maruyama, “The best science comes from strong communities with happy scientists.”

A club t-shirt design Physicists for Inclusion cleverly blends discipline and mission. 

In a club t-shirt design, Physicists for Inclusion cleverly blends the club's discipline with its purpose.