Minority students in STEM majors find strong support at ASU

November 12, 2014

Finding the right kind of academic support during college, especially when pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), is said to be an important strategy for success. Yet locating a community of like-minded peers can be difficult for some minority students considering a 2012 National Science Foundation report showed Hispanic and American Indian students make up only about 10 percent of those pursuing STEM degrees.

Despite few in number, minority STEM students at Arizona State University have formed a tight-knit community through a national organization created to support them. Jesus Contreras Rodriguez research presentation Download Full Image

The Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) was founded in 1973 to foster the development of minority students. There are 110 chapters at institutions throughout the U.S., including an active chapter at ASU led by a number of undergraduate and graduate students within the School of Life Sciences.

“Nationally, SACNAS’ goal is to create new opportunities for minority groups in STEM fields, an effort that leads to more diversity in those areas,” said Diana Arroyo, a junior majoring biology and marketing chair for SACNAS’ ASU chapter. “Since our chapter is fairly new, we’re trying to expand our active membership to find new resources — such as internships and research opportunities.”

In addition, biology major and SACNAS president junior Dominic Nicacio said ASU’s chapter offers students a chance to visit medical and graduate schools. This allows members to meet with admissions representatives and faculty from STEM departments.

“There are a lot of students who could really benefit from being part of a supportive community,” Nicacio said. “To join, all you need to do is come to our meetings.”

Members also participate in large events, such as the SACNAS National Conference held in Los Angeles in mid-October. According Ivan Fernandez, a junior majoring in biology and vice president of the group, more than 3,000 people attended to share research, give presentations and learn about career opportunities.

“My favorite part of the conference was personally meeting so many like-minded people,” Fernandez said. “Whether they were students, faculty or professionals, everyone wanted to get to know each other and learn from one another.”

Having so many members together at one time can have a lasting effect on attendees, according to Jorge Ramos, a doctoral candidate in ASU’s environmental life sciences program and a veteran SACNAS member. Ramos was introduced to the organization 11 years ago as a sophomore at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“The day the bus was leaving for the 2003 National Conference in Albuquerque, a colleague and my mentor convinced me to join the group and experience what SACNAS was all about,” Ramos said. “After that trip, I was so inspired to bring the national conference experience to my campus.”

When he returned, Ramos co-founded the UTEP SACNAS chapter. After graduating, he pursued his master’s at University of Washington and joined the chapter there. Now, he uses his experience to advise ASU chapter members, write letters of recommendation, review scholarship applications and talk about research opportunities.

To learn more, the chapter maintains a Facebook page called SACNAS at Arizona State University. The executive board posts event and career information on a regular basis. The chapter’s executive board can be reached at asu.sacnas@gmail.com.

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine


ASU remembers legacy of journalism professor Edward J. Sylvester

November 12, 2014

Edward J. Sylvester, an award-winning journalist who taught at Arizona State University for more than 30 years, died Nov. 8 from complications due to cancer. He was 72.

Sylvester joined ASU in 1980 in what was then the Department of Mass Communication and later became the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He played an integral role in the school’s development, leading the charge in science journalism education and teaching a wide variety of news reporting and editing courses. Edward J. Sylvester Download Full Image

“Ed was a cornerstone of our school for more than three decades,” said Christopher Callahan, Cronkite School dean. “He was instrumental in Cronkite’s rise as one of the nation’s premier professional journalism programs. Ed will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in the hearts of the countless students, alumni, faculty and friends he touched.”

With former Cronkite School director Douglas A. Anderson, Sylvester helped craft a successful proposal for one of the first Knight Chairs in Journalism, an endowed professorship currently held by Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Doig who teaches data journalism.

“I owe my career at the Cronkite School to Ed’s visionary understanding that data journalism would be a necessary part of a modern journalism curriculum,” Doig said. “He was among the first journalism educators to teach such a course, starting even before the World Wide Web was invented.”

Sylvester’s achievements included leading the school’s partnership with the Mayo Clinic, mentoring medical school students pursuing master’s degrees at Cronkite. Senior associate dean of the Cronkite School and Solheim Professor Marianne Barrett said Sylvester remained active after retiring in 2013, teaching courses online and in the classroom. Barrett said, “He was really dedicated to his students, going above and beyond to mentor them.”

Conrad J. Storad, a 1983 ASU master’s graduate, said Sylvester was incredibly important in launching his career as an author and executive editor of the nationally acclaimed ASU Research Magazine.

“He was a master of the classroom,” said Storad, who was Sylvester’s teaching assistant. “He could get people moving in the right direction, and get people to turn around and see the light. He really was a master teacher and loved being in the classroom with the kids.”

Prior to joining ASU, Sylvester was a reporter and editor for more than a decade at newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Arizona Daily Star. He secured numerous journalism honors, including a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing in 1977 for an Arizona Daily Star story on the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Sylvester was the author of five books on medical research and biosecurity, as well as numerous academic journal articles. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction in 1983 for “The Gene Age” and in 1986 for “Target: Cancer.”

Sylvester served in the U.S. Army as an information specialist for the 24th Infantry Division in Augsburg, Germany from 1965-1967. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1965 from Princeton University and a master’s degree in 1974 from the City College of New York, where he was a member of Joseph Heller’s famed fiction workshop.

He is survived by his wife Ginny, his son Daniel, his daughter Katie and her husband Anthony, and three grandchildren: Nicola, Molly and Natalie. A celebration will be held at the University Club on the ASU Tempe campus from 3-5 p.m., Nov. 15. All are welcome.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in the name of Edward J. Sylvester to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in support of science journalism scholarships: http://www.asufoundation.org/Cronkite.

Reporter , ASU Now