Vanderbilt charters first SACNAS student chapter in Tennessee

Biomedical engineering Ph.D. student is president

A new campus organization devoted to increasing the number of Hispanic/Chicano and Native American undergraduate and graduate students who major in science and engineering has been chartered at Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt University’s Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) student chapter is the first in Tennessee, and one of 100 in the nation.

Physics and astronomy professor David Ernst is the chapter’s adviser. As a long-time member of SACNAS, he has organized sessions, served as a mentor and coordinated the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) role in the SACNAS annual conference since 1996.

SACNAS chapter officers are (L-R) Laura Vega, treasurer; Gabriella Alvarez, secretary; Natalie Sanchez, vice president; and Oscar Ayala, president. David Ernst, professor of physics and astronomy, is the adviser.

Ernst won the 2011 Distinguished Professional Mentor Award from SACNAS. He was cited for his efforts toward mentoring individual students, particularly minority students, and for his work with the NSHP, with SACNAS, with the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and with the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program.

“I am very excited to have a student chapter of SACNAS at Vanderbilt. We have had some very active SACNAS members here, and they have contributed substantially to the SACNAS national meeting. A local chapter will allow all to contribute locally throughout the year, not just for the one meeting each year, and for us to start to work together coherently in order to amplify our impact.”

Chapter membership also is open to Vanderbilt post-doctoral personnel and faculty. Membership will be offered to enrolled students of neighboring community colleges.

SACNAS chapter officers are Oscar Ayala, president, a third-year doctoral student in biomedical engineering; Natalie Sanchez, vice president; Laura Vega, treasurer; and Gabriella Alvarez, secretary. Sanchez, Vega and Alvarez are first-year students in physics astronomy in the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-PhD Bridge Program.

“As the first SACNAS student chapter in Tennessee, we look forward to gathering a vibrant group that encourages the growth of its members and supports the advancement of science literacy throughout Nashville communities,” Ayala said.

Several chapter activities are already planned, including a trip this summer to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. During the fall semester the group will host a Science Café, and are looking forward to offering science demos at local high schools. Members also plan to attend the national SACNAS conference in Washington, D.C., in October.

“The focus of SACNAS isn’t only on science disciplines and engineering,” Ayala said. “The organization also encourages those to join who are in computer and information sciences, mathematics, psychology and social sciences, humanities and education.”

The Vanderbilt SACNAS chapter is on Facebook and Twitter. For more information, contact Oscar Ayala,

The professional organization was founded in 1973 by a group of minority scientists, and was incorporated in 1986 under the name of Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Inc.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering