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Where Science and Culture Meet


Oct. 6, 2008 –  More than 2,500 minority scientists, science educators and students will gather October 9 through 12, 2008 in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the Salt Palace Convention Center for the 35th Annual National Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).  The theme for this year’s conference is “International Polar Year: Global Change in Our Communities.” The University of Utah is the platinum conference sponsor and this is the first time the conference will be held in Utah.

The mission of SACNAS is to encourage Chicano/Latino and Native American students to pursue graduate education and obtain the advanced degrees necessary for science research, leadership, and reaching careers at all levels.

“SACNAS is honored to be hosted by the state of Utah,” said Judit Camacho, executive director of the national organization, “and we are honored to have the opportunity to build an unprecedented partnership with the University of Utah and other state and local champions, who have come together to impact thousands of underrepresented students in science.”

Pierre Sokolsky, dean, College of Science, University of Utah, agreed, “The University of Utah and the College of Science are facing an unprecedented change in demographics in Utah. The SACNAS conference is a gift from heaven for us in this respect. It will be of the greatest importance in helping us to understand how to promote, instruct and recruit these wonderful students.” Eighty-nine percent of students enrolled in the sciences at the University of Utah in 2007 were white.  Octavio Villalpando, associate vice president, Office for Equity and Diversity at the university states, “The University of Utah considers itself a leader in preparing the state’s future scientists.  SACNAS will help us ensure that our future science graduates represent the complete diversity of our state, especially given the dramatic demographic growth we are already witnessing in our public school system.”

At the conference participants from all scientific fields will engage in discourse on the science-focused theme of global change, particularly climate change, and its impact on all fields of science and all ecosystems and populations from the poles to the desert Southwest. Timed to correspond with worldwide efforts related to the International Polar Year (IPY), and supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the conference represents an opportunity for the minority scientific community to have a voice in the direction and application of research affecting the health of the planet and its inhabitants. According to Forrest S. Cuch, executive director, Division of Indian Affairs for the State of Utah, “American Indians continue to be underrepresented in the math and science fields. SACNAS addresses this need in a most effective way through partnerships with American Indians, Chicanos and other groups. It thus becomes a challenge we undertake together by combining community forces.”

The over 2,500 conference attendees will include nearly 300 exhibitors from universities and federal agencies, and 1,200 minority graduate and undergraduate students nationwide. Five- hundred-fifty students will present their scientific research. In addition, scientific symposia, professional development sessions, and undergraduate and graduate scientific presentations will be held in concert with Latino and Native American music and dance performances, cultural gatherings, and community networking, celebrating the rich cultural contributions of conference participants.

In addition, the University of Utah will hold a pre-conference institute October 8 and 9 for about 250 selected students who wish to learn more about educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math at the U.  2007 Nobel Prize winner Mario R. Capecchi, distinguished professor of human genetics and biology at the University of Utah’s Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, will give the keynote address.

The general public is invited to attend two SACNAS conference events:

  • On Saturday, October 11th from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, a SACNAS Community Day will be held in Exhibit Hall A-C of the Salt Palace Convention Center. Community members and educators, along with more than 350 high school students from the statewide MESA program (Math Engineering and Science Association) will enjoy a wonderful array of hands-on activities, exhibits and programs designed to encourage, enrich and expand pre-college interest and support for educational opportunities for youth in the sciences.  Local pre-college students and their families are invited to visit the hall and enjoy the vast collection of scientific education and career displays and interact with conference exhibitors. Over 60 American Indian high school students from the Navajo, Goshute, Ute and Paiute tribes of Utah will be attending Community Day.
  • That evening from 8:45 PM to 11:45 PM SACNAS will host a Pow Wow at the Salt Palace Convention Center for conference attendees and the local community. This intertribal gathering of music and dance will feature traditional, fancy, grass, shawl and jingle dress dancing as well as art, crafts, and jewelry vendors and informational booths from local community health organizations.

The press is invited to attend any/all events. To obtain a press pass, present your press badge at the information desk near the registration area in the Salt Palace Convention Center.

For more detailed information about the conference or student programs visit http://www.sacnas.org/ . For more information about the University of Utah Office for Equity and Diversity programs visit http://www.diversity.utah.edu/.

Conference Grant Partners are National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), DHHS; National Security Agency (NSA); National Science Foundation NSF, Directorate for Geosciences; National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Polar Programs.

The University of Utah is the Platinum conference sponsor. Local Utah conference sponsors include:

Utah Division of Indian Affairs, State Office of Education, The Office of Salt Lake City  Mayor Ralph Becker, and Westminster College.  In-kind support comes from:  The Office of Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, Granite School District,  Salt Lake City School District, Utah Coalition de la Raza, Salt Lake City Community College, State Office of Ethnic Affairs and Centro de la Familia.