In 1973, CSUN biology professor MariaElena Zavala, along with a small group of Latinos and Native American scientists, recognized a pressing need in our nation and formed SACNAS – the Society for Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science. Their goal was clear and straightforward: to increase the numbers of Latinos and Native Americans in the science fields and diversify the nation's scientific workforce.

The organization's mission attracted national funding and its founders established a presence in federal scientific agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

After four decades of commitment to inclusivity, SACNAS' mission has expanded to reach all ethnicities lacking representation in the STEM fields, serving more than 23,000 people nationwide at more than 1,000 institutions, agencies and programs.

The annual National Diversity in STEM Conference, SACNAS' signature event presenting student research, exhibitions and professional development sessions, has grown tremendously from 200 attendees in its first year to more than 4,000 in 2017 – making it the largest conference of its kind in the country.

The California State University, which educates the most diverse student body in the nation, has partnered with SACNAS to strengthen the university's efforts to close achievement gaps among underrepresented communities while also satisfying the state's looming workforce demands.

In order to meet current and future workforce demands, the CSU is producing more job-ready STEM graduates. Labor statistics state that the number of STEM jobs in California will grow to 1.4 million by 2022. However, the diversity of the state's population continues to increase, yet the amount of minorities working in the STEM industries does not keep pace.

Latinos, for example, account for only 6.1 percent of the STEM workforce, while African-Americans and Native Americans make up just five percent combined. Cultivating innovative solutions to the world's scientific issues requires diversity, and the partnership between CSU and SACNAS strives to develop more STEM leaders from the university's diverse student body.

Nine CSU campuses currently have a SACNAS chapter dedicated to helping future scientists transition from students to professionals. Students are each assigned a faculty adviser with a broad STEM background to assist with their success in obtaining a STEM degree. Advisers provide students with mentorship and development opportunities, such as internships, service learning and research.

Zavala says the organization has successfully served as a bridge to help minorities excel in STEM because of their understanding of each student's background.

"We know what it's like to not be included," said Zavala. "Despite the fact that they don't look like the typical scientist, students are highly encouraged by their mentors to pursue their degrees. We understand that no one loses their brain migrating to America, but there's a systemic issue that hinders them."

Since partnering with SACNAS, 10 faculty advisers from the CSU have been recognized as Distinguished Mentors, a national award to honor their exceptional dedication to excellence in science, education and mentoring. The quality of service of CSU advisers is reflected in the students they serve, as CSU students have consistently been on SACNAS' list of undergraduate awardees year after year. In 2017 alone, 18 CSU students took home awards for their research presentations at the annual conference.

All SACNAS chapters are community-based and are open to all students in the local area, including K-12. SACNAS chapters are currently located at the following CSU campuses:

  • Channel Islands
  • Fresno
  • Los Angeles
  • Northridge
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Francisco
  • San Marcos
  • Stanislaus

For more information on SACNAS, visit http://sacnas.org/.