Cherokee Durant, a Mayville State University senior from Devils Lake, N.D., attended the National Diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering) Conference in Long Beach, Calif. Oct. 13-15, 2016. The conference brought together more than 3,800 students and science professionals of color and their allies for a weekend of cutting-edge science, mentoring, networking, and professional development.

The conference was organized by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). It was made up of three days of cutting-edge science, training, mentoring, and cultural activities for students and scientists at all levels. For more than 40 years, SACNAS has been the leading multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity organization in the country. The workshops, scientific research presentations, motivational keynotes, and engaging networking events offered conference attendees both inspiration and education. The powerful combination of science, culture, and community made for an unforgettable professional experience for those who attended 

Cherokee, who is majoring in biology, knows the importance of considering the career path she should follow. The possibilities are endless, and this can be overwhelming. She is grateful for this opportunity for under-represented groups like Native Americans and Hispanic students because it gives people like her the opportunity to network and explore possibilities for positions in careers in STEM fields.

This is the second time Cherokee has attended the SACNAS national conference. In 2015, she attended the conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

In the summer of 2015, Ms. Durant was visiting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Native Visit Week when she met someone who shared information about SACNAS and their annual conference. She later received an email from a SACNAS representative, who invited her to attend the 2015 conference. She was fortunate to receive travel scholarships which paid for airfare, hotel, and meals, for both the 2015 and 2016 conferences.

On the first day of the 2016 conference, attendees were able to participate in field trips. Chereokee joined a group that visited the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, which is dedicated to conserving the environment and studying plants. Most of the species studied there are plants native to California. Their labs hold a variety of plants, and there are vaults that contain seeds of common and endangered plants. Samples of plants dating as far back as the 1800s are preserved in the herbarium.

During the conference, Cherokee was able to explore what STEM careers and post-graduate institutions might be right for her. “I met amazing people who worked hard to put this event together,” said Durant.

“I aspire to be a medical scientist, and opportunities like this have helped me to get in touch with people who can help me meet my goal, while learning about the vast opportunities that are available. This conference is ideal for anyone pursuing STEM majors and seeking to advance in their education and training. The conference has many opportunities for everyone. Applicants who are Hispanic or Native American usually have preference for travel scholarships, but everyone is encouraged to apply for a chance to get in touch with the exciting world of science.”