The Siena Heights University S-STEM program recently took six students to the inaugural 2023 S-STEM Scholars meeting hosted by the AAAS STEM-REC. The three-day conference took place from September 14 to September 16 at the Marriot Marquis in Washington D.C. and welcomed over 1,000 students from higher education institutions across the United States.

In spring 2023, Jun Tsuji, SHU’s Assistant Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, received word that the S-STEM Scholars Meeting would be taking place. As a current National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM grant awardee, he was invited to submit student nominations, having originally only anticipated one or two students being able to attend with airfare, hotel expenses, meals, and more being fully covered. However, because of a lack of applicants for the first year, Siena Heights received enough funding for six students to attend. This funding was entirely separate from Siena Heights University’s existing $1.5 million NSF S-STEM grant. The students who attended on SHU’s behalf included Ahmad Awad, E’Anna Won, Mackenzie Pettey, Kiana Rumps, Shilo Bernal, and Nethanel Leupold.

The AAAS-S-STEM REC designed this meeting to help support the S-STEM Program, which is National Science Foundation-sponsored program designed to help build the talent pool in STEM disciplines to address local, regional, and national workforce needs. The Scholars Meeting provides an opportunity for talented STEM undergraduate and graduate students from low-income backgrounds throughout the U.S. to connect with fellow scholars and STEM professionals, engage in professional and career development activities, and present their research across a wide variety of STEM disciplines.IMG_3820

The six Siena Heights S-STEM scholars presented their research during two poster sessions during the conference. With how the Siena Heights’ S-STEM program is structured, scholars have their research class in the fall. They presented in two groups of three for research conducted in Fall 2022. The titles of their research were “Testing for Nitrate and Phosphate in Lake Adrian Using a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV)” and “Measuring Water Temperatures at Different Depths in Lake Adrian Using a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV)”.

Siena Heights students were the only ones at the conference to use ROVs in their research. In addition, SHU was one of the few schools to present in groups, allowing for all six students to present. Dr. Tsuji noted, “The group project gives a sense of what it means to work together with others in research. It allows for collaboration with others and experiences with what it means to uphold their individual research responsibilities.”  

In addition, SHU’s Melissa Tsuji, MA, SHRM-CP, Director of Career Services and Experiential Learning, was selected as a Meeting Mentor for the conference. To become a Meeting Mentor, Mrs. Tsuji also submitted an abstract to be a conference presenter. 100 abstracts were submitted, but only 25 were accepted. The Conference focused on workshops that were interactive and hands-on, including Mrs. Tsuji’s “Boosting Your Brand Identity.” Additional workshop topics that scholars could attend included “How to Apply to Graduate School,” “Financial Skills,” “Peer Mentoring,” “Research Proposals,” “Preparing Application Materials,” and more.

In addition to attending these workshop sessions, a Genius Bar was also available for the students. They could bring their resumes, personal statements, and more portfolio materials to be reviewed by professionals. In addition, scholars were able to get professional headshots taken.IMG_5125

“The conference was an amazing opportunity to present our research to hundreds of other people across the nation,” said SHU senior E’Anna Won. “It was great to make new connections with other STEM scholars and learn from other people’s experiences.”

Outside of staying busy with the Scholars Meeting activities, the conference organizers also placed a heavy emphasis on exploring Washington, D.C. For many students, including three of Siena Heights’ own, this was their first time in a major metropolitan area. SHU students visited the National Botanical Garden, National Mall, National Zoo, WWII Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and MLK Memorial, and walked outside the Capital Building and White House.

“As professionals, we are in the classroom every day. But to be able to participate at a conference of that size, at that level, was a significant accomplishment. I believe we represented Siena Heights in a really impactful way,” Melissa Tsuji said.

The Siena Heights S-STEM Program already plans on nominating students for next year’s conference and looks forward to the continued educational and professional opportunities provided through the S-STEM Scholars Meeting.