by Janet Mansaray

For this year’s National Diversity in STEM Conference (NDiSTEM) organized by SACNAS, I was selected to be a volunteer for the ROOT & SHOOT RCN exhibition booth in Portland, Oregon. This was my first SACNAS conference and it was an exciting opportunity. I have gone to large conferences such as the Botany Conferences organized by the Botanical Society of America (BSA), but NDiSTEM was truly a unique because I was able to see and interact BIPOC scientists from around the world as well as see the ground-breaking research they are apart of.

Though I unfortunately missed the first day at the booth due to a flight cancellation, I was able to join Marcia and the other volunteers on Friday. We were able to talk to, undergraduate students, high school teachers, scientists/professors, and even professionals starting their own RCNs. As someone who has been involved in the organizations that Root & Shoot partners with, I was able to share my experiences with people who were interested in joining them such as the Botanical Society of America. For example, some students were not only interested in participating in Root & Shoot but also wanted mentoring experiences and I was able to tell them about the Preparing Leaders and Nurturing Tomorrow’s Scientists (PLANTS) program, which takes place at the annual BSA Botany Conference. It helps to pair first-time conference attendees with junior and senior mentors. In addition, some teachers/professors who work with high schools wanted information on how they can engage high school students in STEM or if we had any opportunities for them. I was able to share my experience working with PlantingScience, another BSA program that works with high school students to conduct scientific experiments related to plant biology. As someone who is interested in outreach, DEI, and communicating plant science to a broader audience, volunteering at the R & S booth was a great experience/opportunity. I was able to network with people who passed by the booth as well as find out more about the R & S from Marcia, who is from the same area in Maryland as me!

With the support of Root & Shoot to attend the conference, I was able to present in the STEM Education and Learning category where I won an award for my presentation. Overall, despite missing a day of the conference I had an unforgettable experience and would love to continue to be involved in R & S for any future volunteer opportunities they may have.

Janet Mansaray is a PhD student at the Louisiana State University (LSU). Her research focuses on the systematics, evolution, and taxonomy of Centropogon subgenus Centropogon. She is particularly interested role of mutualisms in driving patterns of morphological evolution, and is an active member of the Botanical Society of America (BSA). 

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