STEM leader attends national institute


Dr. Christopher Himes at Stanford University this past July, as he took part in an assessment exercise on the first day of the SACNAS Summer Leadership Institute.

Dr. Christopher Himes, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program manager and the Evelyn H. and the Arlindo Jorge Endowed Chair in MCLA's Education Department, found himself part of a select group this summer as one of 10 early career professors at the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Summer Leadership Institute, held at Stanford University.

In total, 30 emerging leaders - 10 each from the postdoctoral, early career, and mid-career levels - were selected from a very competitive, national pool of applicants to work together to build world leadership skills while providing diversity in the science fields.

"You don't always have an opportunity to discuss your career path, and this gave me the opportunity to come up with a vision of where I see my professional life going as a leader," Himes said.

Throughout the intensive, five-day course, the Institute featured a curriculum that focused on issues specific to the needs of underrepresented minority science leadership, provided networking opportunities, and presented participants with take-away tools and individual leadership development planning to leverage leadership advancement at their home institutions.

According to Himes, the Institute expanded on what MCLA already has in place to promote diversity in the sciences, as the campus looks toward future goals and examines new programs it may implement to facilitate students success.

"We talked about some of the challenges that are faced by science faculty of color - Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans," Himes explained. "One of the things that we discussed at length is identity among students who are in the sciences, and how they fit in.

"There's a cultural phenomenon where some wonder about their sense of belonging within an institution, its departments, and within the field nationally. Am I a biologist? Am I a chemist? It was a really powerful thing for me to have the opportunity to discuss that at this conference, and then bring it back," Himes said.

Himes said there's a national trend where many underrepresented students in the sciences drop out because they don't see themselves fulfilling the role as a scientist.

"As a person who's trained in the sciences, we don't have an opportunity to really talk about the human perspective of being in the sciences. I think that we need to have that discussion about how we feel," he added.

A member of SACNAS for the past several years, at the Institute Himes established a network with diverse scientists from across the country.

Participants included those from institutions such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Emory University, the National Science Foundation, Northeastern Illinois University, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Davis, University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Chicago.

"We generated ideas not only about what we'd like to research, but ways in which we'd like to collaborate," Himes said.

According to Dr. Marina Ramon, senior manager for post-docs and professionals and staff lead for the Institute, the 2014 Summer Leadership Institute cohort has tremendous leadership potential.

"In particular, the selection committee was very impressed with how the cohort clearly articulated how they are going to utilize their desired outcomes from the training for practical application towards meeting their current and future leadership projects," she said.