Skip to content

Five Students Score Big at SACNAS Conference

November 29, 2017

Five UC Merced students brought home awards for their research at this year’s Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Diversity in STEM conference.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) at UC Merced sent 26 scholars to present their most recent research projects at the conference in Salt Lake City. Out of more than 1,000 presenters and 117 winners, the following Bobcats were honored for their research and presentation skills:

  • Yulissa Perez Rojas is a member of the Chancellor’s Honors List. Her faculty mentors are professors Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and Teamrat A. Ghezzehei. She conducted her geoscience research through the University of California's Leadership Excellence Through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS).
  • Julio Perez conducted his materials science and mechanical systems research through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). He was mentored by Professor Gerardo Diaz.
  • Tanya Tafolla researched other life sciences through UC LEADS and the Summer Undergraduate Research Program in molecular and quantitative and computational biology (SURP). She is a member of the Chancellor’s Honors List, and was mentored by professors Francois Blanchette and Arnold D. Kim, and Princeton University professors Ned Wingreen and Mohamed Donia.
  • Benjamin Juarez conducted his biochemistry research through the Louis Stokes California Alliance for Minority Participation program (NSF CAMP) and SURP. He was mentored by Professor Susanne Sindi and Princeton University Professor Zemer Gitai.
  • Kenny Veliz conducted physiology/pathology research through the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, mentored by Professor Rudy Ortiz.

“Presenting my research at the SACNAS national conference was a true honor,” said Perez, who was attending for the first time. “It’s not only because of the level of competitiveness but mainly because of how safe it felt to be yourself, in terms of academics. I was able to have a genuine intellectual conversation with every single person I met. It was amazing.”

These students’ achievements were a highlight of the SACNAS Conference for the UROC community. UROC — established in 2014 — encourages and facilitates faculty-mentored undergraduate research projects and creative activities across all schools and academic disciplines. There are seven programs within UROC — ASPIRES, JGI, KURE, MARC, SURF, UC LEADS, & UROC-H — and 80 scholars. 

“This was my second year attending SACNAS and although the networking opportunities I’ve made have been beneficial, what I most am thankful for is being able to work on communicating my research, career goals and ideas in science,” Juarez said. “I am looking forward to more conferences so I can further improve my communication skills and learn more about my place in the STEM fields.”

SACNAS is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos, Hispanics and Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in STEM. 

Learn more about the SACNAS winners on the conference’s website.