Student-led STEM conference is becoming an anticipated annual event

Student-led STEM conference is becoming an anticipated annual event

Student-led STEM conference is becoming an anticipated annual event

Ernesto Guades Keynote Presentation at 2023 CNAS STEM Conference
Dr. Ernesto Guades, a civil engineering professor, delivers a keynote on Guam infrastructure at the UOG CNAS STEM Conference on April 7, 2023.
Maria Minas at 2023 CNAS STEM Conference
Maria Minas, '22 B.S. Mathematics, shares her undergraduate research project in a poster presentation on April 7, 2023.
Marybelle Quinata at 2023 CNAS STEM Conference
Marybelle Quinata presents on volunteer opportunities with the Guam National Wildlife Refuge during the UOG CNAS STEM Conference on April 7, 2023.
Annabelle Ludwig and Olympia Terral at 2023 CNAS STEM Conference
Senior biology major Annabelle Ludwig talks with citizen scientist Olympia Terral following her presentation at the UOG CNAS STEM Conference on April 7, 2023.

Photo of "STEM" written on a window
The third annual UOG CNAS STEM Conference was held April 7-8, 2023, at the UOG Calvo Field House.

A three-year-old conference at the University of Guam is establishing itself as an increasingly anticipated annual event among the student population. And it was started by none other than passionate students looking to create a community of support and inspiration in some of the most challenging degree fields: science, technology, engineering, and math.

This academic year marked the third annual UOG CNAS STEM Conference — an event organized entirely by the student organizations under the College of Natural & Applied Sciences and the School of Engineering. The conference has consistently posted attendance numbers around 300 — which includes an average of 125 high school students — and received many appreciative comments in this year's post-conference surveys.

“Some people said it exceeded their expectations,” said Gabriella Prelosky, a senior biology major who served as one of the conference chairs, of this year’s conference.

A ‘safe space’ to gain exposure and experience

Photo of pre-medical major Edina Lee
Sophomore pre-medical major Edina Lee presents her research during the poster presentations portion of the UOG CNAS STEM Conference on April 7, 2023, in the UOG Calvo Field House.
UOG students are well-connected to research mentorship programs as well as opportunities to present their work at stateside and international conferences. So why does a smaller, home-based conference seem to be so popular?

“Having that local aspect, student-to-student, you eliminate that fear of [larger audiences and events],” said Louise Pascua, a senior bio-med major and a conference chair. “Especially for high school students and our local undergraduate students, it kind of gives them a safe space to present.”

The conference includes several hours for poster presentations, where undergraduate and graduate students get to practice explaining research they’ve worked on. It might be their first time ever giving a poster presentation, or, for others, it’s a way to share work they’ve done and presented off-island with the local community.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm about the poster sessions,” Prelosky said, saying they had an unexpected 20 total submissions this year. “We had a lot of people who were excited because this might have been their practice for a bigger conference, and we were helping them get some exposure talking to people in person.”

Sophomore pre-medical major Edina Lee was one of the first-time presenters.

“I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to have a script or not, so I had little notes on my hand to remember all the important points I wanted to get across,” she said.

Lee’s presentation was on the anti-diabetic potential of local mango leaves. She said food science research topics aren’t very common among UOG students but she hopes her presentation inspired others to consider it and contribute toward a healthier future for island residents.

A chance to plug into opportunities

Photo of students laughing in a Sloan Foundation workshop
Students enjoy a special Sloan Foundation workshop on how to improve their chances of getting into graduate schools during the UOG CNAS STEM Conference on April 7, 2023.
Associate Dean of CNAS Kate Moots encouraged the student attendees to see the conference as a chance to dream: “What could I do? What’s available? What’s interesting? What captures my imagination? … Think of this as a chance to get together with people who are interested in similar things, but also think of it as a chance to really enjoy science,” she said.

A frequent comment on the post-conference surveys was the attendees’ appreciation of the opportunities to learn about programs they had heard of and others they weren’t yet aware of.

“The part of the STEM Conference that stuck with me the most was the Expo Hall because I was able to see what clubs interested me,” said Sean Chan, an 11th grade attendee from John F. Kennedy High School, who hopes to attend UOG.

Chan was also one of many attendees of a special session on the University of Guam and University of Hawaii at Manoa 2+2 bachelor’s in mechanical engineering program, where students complete two years of engineering coursework at UOG and then transfer to UH Manoa to complete their final two years.

“I could see myself considering this path when I go to UOG,” he said.

A pipeline for future STEM majors

The conference is creating a pipeline for high school students into STEM programs by connecting them with student organizations and informing them of available programs and opportunities to try out different areas in STEM. The committee shared the event information with high school counselors, which resulted in 42 high school attendees this year, although the previous years’ virtual format saw even higher numbers.

“They came prepared. I was so surprised, and they dressed nicely,” Pascua said. “They were very interactive in the live sessions. We were worried no one would ask questions, but they asked a lot of questions — and a lot of good questions. It is nice to know that we are inspiring the next generation of scientists.”

Another JFK student, Iris Calaunan, said she attended because she has a general interest in science, in particular medicine and plants, and wanted to connect with people with similar interests. “I learned you really have to put yourself out there if you want to try new things and gain more experiences,” she said.

Keeping the Bunsen burner lit

The past three years of the UOG CNAS STEM Conference have involved not just upperclassmen orchestrating the event, but a lot of underclassmen as volunteers. The committee chairs, most of whom are graduating this year, said they hope those who have been involved will step up to continue holding the conference and grow its roots even deeper as an annual UOG event.

Conference Group 2 2023 CNAS STEM Conference

The UOG CNAS STEM Conference planning committee takes a group photo on the conference stage in the Calvo Field House.