The conference, “Building a Diverse STEM Talent Pool: Classrooms to Careers,” featured
151 poster abstracts from undergraduate and graduate students from 53 colleges and
universities across the nation.
As part of the LSMRCE’s mission to increase diversity in the U.S. STEM workforce,
the conference supports the professional and personal development of students. Illinois
Wesleyan’s partnership with the LSMRCE provided funding for Blair and Garcia to attend
the conference, along with Assistant Professor of Biology Loralyn Cozy.
Cozy noted that more than 500 students attended, nearly all of whom were African American,
Hispanic, Native American or Native Pacific Islander.
“For students who are in the minority in their chosen field of study, being immersed
in a space where STEM peers and leaders look like them is incredibly powerful,” Cozy
Blair said the conference was an “amazing experience,” as she presented the research
she conducted with Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Roesner. Her research, which focused
on the host-guest chemistry of polyoxoanions, was funded by the Illinois Wesleyan
University Forrest Frank Fund and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
“Working with Dr. Roesner has made my college experience great,” Blair said. “I was
able to learn a lot from her, inside the research aspect and even outside of it. Researching
was a lot of fun, even though there were many different challenges we faced and overcame.”
Garcia faced similar rewards and challenges throughout her research process. She presented
research conducted as part of a summer internship at the College of Charleston which
focused on how invasive species can alter environments in both positive and negative
“My research experience during the summer was challenging because it was self-led
and independent. Although there were periods of stress, I learned how to trust myself,
my skills, and build my confidence in the lab,” she said.
Blair and Garcia also had the opportunity to connect with professionals in the field.
“They had amazing women in STEM talk to us about their experiences, while also encouraging
us to never give up even if we hit a roadblock. One of the major takeaways for me
was to find your network of people early, the people who will be there to make you
better by encouraging you to do things you never thought you could do,” Blair said.
Garcia also added that “it was motivating and reaffirming” to hear from speakers working
in the field.
“The keynote speakers at the conference were incredibly amazing, inspiring women of
color in science, working in places like NASA and FermiLab,” she said.
Through this experience, Blair and Garcia gained insight into their future careers.
For Blair, this future is in medical or graduate school. Garcia hopes to combine research
with educational outreach and work in a museum or other public institution and engage
with guests about science.
“I hope that Lilia and Ayana, as well as future students we bring to this conference,
leave with the feeling that they are part of something much bigger,” Cozy said. “That
there are students just like them across the country working and succeeding in their
passion for science and that there is a vast community of people ready to help them
achieve reach their goals.”