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I got woke at SACNAS

A picture of Kevin standing in front of his poster at SACNAS 2018.
Kevin standing proudly in front of his poster.

Kevin came to us a few years ago, and we’ve had the pleasure of working with him over two summer projects. His work involved the discovery and characterization of bacteriophages isolated from local sewage water, and he’s had the opportunity to present his work at multiple local symposia. We took him with us to SACNAS 2018 in San Antonio to his first national conference, and he shares his experience below.

I got woke at SACNAS

When I attended SACNAS I had never been to a science conference other than local symposia hosted by INBRE or the University of Hawaii (UH). Going to SACNAS with only these conferences as comparison I had no idea what was in store for me there. In the beginning I was just thinking that it was another opportunity to show off my work. Damn was I surprised when I got there. My most vivid memory was of the exhibition room, which I swear was the size of half of Leeward Community College, with huge ceilings and hundreds of exhibitors. As a soon to be graduate at UH each booth was like imagining a new possibility for my future. They had industries, PhD programs, and summer research opportunities. The possibilities seemed endless. I never truly realized that there were so many opportunities out there in STEM. Living in Hawaii for my whole life it was hard to fully comprehend because the islands have been your world for so long. I had a sense of it but it never really hit me like it did there in that exhibition hall where graduate programs and industries all over the US wanted students just like me. I felt wanted, it made me feel my education was really worth it.

The conference was buzzing with energy. Everyone was incredibly excited to be there and supportive of each other. I remember that support the most while presenting my poster. I shared great conversations with the judges. I felt many of them believed in me and my project; sometimes you need that especially when you find it hard to even believe in yourself. After talking with some of the judges they encouraged me to apply to their schools. I was surprised at how comfortable I had felt while presenting my work there. Unlike the smaller local conferences where I would normally be shaking, the atmosphere at SACNAS didn’t cause me to worry. There was less judgment and much more encouragement, which I think can really make or break a beginning STEM student. I had given one of my best poster presentations at this conference. That’s when I truly appreciated and understood how powerful surrounding yourself with others that accept and support you can be. It was really eye opening to experience the freeing feeling that you can really do just about anything and the people there really made me believe that. My desire to attend graduate school in the mainland was confirmed.

From this conference I was able to speak with one of the representatives from University of Pittsburgh. I received an application fee waiver from them encouraging me to apply and the rest is history. Now I’m attending University of Pittsburgh for my PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. I can’t thank my two INBRE foster fathers Dr. Kae and Dr. Neupane enough for pushing me to go to SACNAS and always lifting me up. It was nice to see that there are other mentors in the world who want to see you succeed like they do and just as supportive. Neupdawg and SpecialKae would probably argue those mentors are not as cool though.

The conference experience

Group of faculty and students at SACNAS 2019.
SACNAS 2019. Many are missing, but this was the largest group we could corral.

Last week, Honolulu was the site of SACNAS 2019 – The National Diversity in STEM conference. It was the largest of its kind ever, with over 5000 participants from across the US and its territories. This made a great opportunity to take some of our students, and give them the experience of their first national conference. There were many workshops and exhibits over the three days, and things were probably a little overwhelming, but we managed to squeeze in some fun amongst the work.

The plan for this space is to include a series of posts from students, both past and present, to share their experiences. We’ll be rolling them out over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned ….

The start of it all …

So the start of the new academic year has put a cramp on our extracurricular activities, like updating this blog. We still have a dedicated group of young scientists working away on a number of projects, but our primary responsibilities drastically limit the size of the group. But in the interim, we have our first contribution from a former student. She was part of our first summer team, way back in 2014, and is currently a Master’s candidate in the department of Tropical Medicine at UH-Manoa (and she just recently passed her qualifying exam!).

The start of it all …

Taylor Tashiro

I was just like many other people in their late teens, early 20’s — an undergraduate, lost, afraid, and unable to find a purpose in anything I was doing. That was until I joined the INBRE undergraduate research program at Leeward Community College, all because I thought it was a good idea to get experience to put on my resume for med school. Little did I know that there was so much more that I would take away from it than just that. I gained lifelong friendships (my lab mates and mentors) and essential skills that I still apply to my work till this day (networking, presenting to professionals and general public, and molecular lab techniques). I still keep in contact with everyone I worked with, and although we have gone our separate ways (career and school-wise) I still see that all of us still apply all that we learned to our everyday lives. Going through this summer program helped me gain confidence in presenting my research, and being able to ask questions as to why we do things instead of just “doing it because we had to.” If I could describe what I took away from this program in one word, it would be… “GROWTH.”

Dr. Neupane, Dr. MacDonald, Dr. Kae, Dr. Jha, and Dr. Ashburn were all incredible mentors. Till this day, after going through many other research projects and programs, they were the best mentors I’ve ever had. They were all mindful of where we started, how we progressed through the summer research program, and through all of that, pushed us to achieve such great things. They all saw potential in every one of us, and because of that, helped us to go on to win awards for our research, and move onto higher learning at other institutions.  

This whole experience was very enriching, and is not something that should be overlooked. This opportunity is what launched my life forward from a dead stop. I grew from being a lost undergrad, to now a TA teaching undergraduate Biology labs, working in a successful research lab, and continuing my graduate degree as a master’s candidate. It was all thanks to my experiences that opened up so many opportunities for me. I’ve come a long way since that time, and I have to thank the undergraduate research program for being the catalyst to start my academic and life journey.

The annual symposium is coming …

Annual research symposium invitation
You are all invited!

As the young scientists are busy wrapping up their work this summer, the focus is turning to our annual summer research symposium.

A little historical note. It was about 6 years ago when we changed the model for our research program. Rather than small groups over the course of the academic year, we decided that one large group over the summer would provide the best comprehensive research experience. This included weekly group meetings, lots of discussions, and a final symposium that would provide a forum for the group to formally present their work. That first group consisted of 6 students working on 3 projects, and it’s been a steady increase in numbers since then. As we mentioned in our last post, we have 18 students working on 9 projects this summer.

The symposium is always a time of excitement. The guest list is large and varied – the Leeward CC administration, the good people from INBRE, our partners from UH-Manoa and JABSOM, family, friends, colleagues, alumni and anyone that walks in off the streets.

And this year we’ve added to the fun. Today at our last group presentation, we will have a draft to determine the presentation order. Tension will be high, LOL.

Next update will be focused on the symposium.

Our First Blog Post

Picture of our young scientists hard at work.
Our young scientists, having fun while working hard.

Finally got this blog up and running. And finally took our first picture of the summer research experience, with only 3 weeks left. We definitely need to do a better job of chronicling the amazing work that these young scientists are putting in. But I guess that’s part of the point of this blog. Hopefully we can convince everyone to contribute regularly. I think that will be the hardest part. #youngpeoplearebusy

We have our largest group ever this summer: 18 students working on 9 projects, and an additional 2 students for support. We also had to move our home base due to some ongoing lab renovations, but other than the extremely cold conditions in this room, being in an open lab environment has been awesome.

Projects are varied, and include examining the microbial communities of crayfish guts, monitoring genes responsible for the regulation of heat stress in chickens, cloning genes from the Dengue virus, identifying fungal contaminants growing on crop seeds, and phylogenetic studies of anthurium flowers and mites living on the human face. As always, we are impressed with the amount of work the students can deliver in such a short span of time, and humbled by how hard they work. #youngscientistsatwork

That’s enough from me, let’s hear from the stars of this show. #waiting