When Jaime Carrazco-Carrillo arrived at Wesleyan last fall from his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, he didn’t expect there to be many other Spanish-speaking students or professors on campus.
Yet upon his arrival, Carrazco-Carrillo, now a second year Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MB&B) graduate student, quickly learned about SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science, from Assistant Professor of MB&B Teresita Padilla-Benavides, whose lab he works in.
Wesleyan’s SACNAS chapter offers students and professors in the sciences the opportunity to connect with each other to help each other grow professionally and personally. The group focuses both on networking with scientists in the field and supporting each other on campus in scientific endeavors and also in the transition to life at the University.
“At Wesleyan, and especially here in the sciences, I think I’m the first Mexican—not even Mexican, the first Spanish speaker—in the MB&B grad school,” Carrazco-Carrillo said. “So I didn’t have anyone with a similar experience as me. SACNAS for me is really a place where I can talk with people. They have the same issues as me, pronunciation-wise, they [have trouble] understanding some sayings in English and everything. And also English in science is a little bit trickier for me compared to normal English speakers.”
Padilla-Benavides explained that Wesleyan’s SACNAS is strongly committed to promoting inclusion, equity, and diversity through all its endeavors.
“We are helping to expose our community to individuals from underrepresented (URG) backgrounds in many ways,” Padilla-Benavides said. “For instance, we invite scientists from URG to give seminars and meet with our students on campus and remotely by zoom. These events are tailored for our students to ask questions, connect and start building networks with scientists of color. Our Wes URG students also go out and deliver outreach programs to K-12 schools with the goal of encouraging young students to become scientists.”
Carrazco-Carrillo’s involvement with SACNAS has continued to grow since he first joined during his first semester on campus. SACNAS itself began at Wesleyan around that same time thanks to Padilla-Benavides, who has been involved with the national organization since 2012. Now, Carrazco-Carrillo will attend SACNAS’s first annual Chapter Officer Leadership October Retreat (C.O.L.O.R), held in San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 26, prior to the National Diversity in Stem Conference, which takes place from the 27th to the 29th.
“I have only been in Mexico and the United States and a little bit of Canada, just [near] the border,” Carrazco-Carrillo said. “It’s going to be my first time leaving the main continent of North America. So I’m really excited.”
Carrazco-Carrillo, who applied for the conference and retreat then received a fully funded trip to Puerto Rico upon his acceptance, intends to gain strategies to help make SACNAS sustainable at Wesleyan so that it can continue gaining traction and attract new members.
“I’m just hoping to get a lot of experience in how to manage this, because we’re new, we’re small,” Carrazco-Carrillo said. “Every time someone builds something, they want it to be able to last, even if [they’re] not there. I want to get enough building ground here in SACNAS when I come back after the conference, get it to grow, and when I leave, it stays growing and healthy [so it] can still help people from any background and whoever needs it.”
Padilla-Benavides described her hopes for what Carrazco-Carrillo will take away from his experiences at the conference and retreat.
“Jaime will go and learn from peers and mentors about best practices to manage our chapter,” Padilla-Benavides said. “He will come back with ideas for new activities and events directed to promote inclusion and diversity in STEM. I also expect that he will grow his/our network with other chapters and hopefully establish partnerships and potentially develop joint events with other institutions.”
Carrazco-Carrillo emphasized that he seeks to learn as much as he can at the retreat and conference. Since SACNAS helped him adjust to life at Wesleyan, he wants to come back and help do the same for other students.
“Honestly, just getting here, being new, [experiencing an] all new culture and everything, just having someone to talk to when you don’t know anyone was really helpful for me…a lot of this is just getting connections, getting people who are in the same field as you,” Carrazco-Carrillo said. “And everyone is offering help.”
Padilla-Benavides praised Carrazco-Carrillo for his hard work and dedication to both his research and to building a stronger community at Wesleyan through SACNAS.
“Jaime is a rising scientist with great potential to succeed,” she said. “He works hard, he is honest, committed and professional. So far, his work has produced a review manuscript about the role of copper and cancer. We are currently preparing his first primary research paper where we will describe novel mechanisms by which a novel copper binding transcription factor regulates the growth of skeletal muscle cells….Wesleyan is a wonderful University that cares for inclusion and diversity, and also a great place to obtain an advanced degree; Jaime is certainly taking advantage of all what he can do here!”
Carrazco-Carrillo reiterated how much his involvement with SACNAS has positively shaped his experiences at Wesleyan thus far.
“It’s just not a professional network,” he said. “It’s also a personal network that just helps you just know you’re not alone, and people have your back. No matter who you are. It really makes you feel more secure here. And it allows you to have a better experience educating yourself.”
Photos from the personal collection of Teresita Padilla-Benavides.