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Celebrating Diversity in STEM

BCLA's "Celebrating Diversity in STEM" event, held at BioscienceLA on November 29th, was a resounding success, representing a significant milestone as our organization's first major Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative. This event not only brought forth exciting announcements but also marked a crucial step toward fostering a more inclusive and equitable STEM community. Recognizing the importance of diversity in driving innovation and progress, this event emphasized BCLA's commitment to amplifying underrepresented voices in the field.

The evening commenced with the noteworthy announcement of Jennifer Olivero as the new BCLA president, signaling a dynamic shift in leadership. Accompanied by the appointments of Gabriella Rubert and Dana Franklin as Directors of Strategic Operations, this leadership team brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective that promises to invigorate and guide BCLA forward.

The spotlight then shifted to the captivating keynote speaker, Christalyn Rhodes, who shared her inspiring journey from overcoming poverty in a small Texas town to becoming the Associate Vice President of Academic Collaborations for Genetic Medicines at Eli Lilly and Company. Rhodes urged the audience to recognize the transformative power of education and resilience, drawing parallels with her own life. She specifically highlighted the importance of honing the ability to tell one's story effectively, stressing the need to stay authentic while adapting to a broader audience. In a particularly compelling segment, Rhodes encouraged everyone present not to shy away from asking seemingly "dumb" questions and to fearlessly embrace new professional challenges. Her insightful advice served as a powerful catalyst for attendees, inspiring them to be true to themselves while navigating the complexities of career growth, and reinforcing the notion that continuous learning and adaptation are keys to success.

Moderated by Dana Franklin, the event featured an engaging panel discussion with distinguished figures in the LA biotech industry, including Jennifer Hairston, Jeremy Dow, Dan Witzling, and Deborah Shepard. They delved into the profound significance of diversity in STEM, actively exploring why the conversation around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has become increasingly crucial in the present context. The panelists collectively emphasized that DEI is not just a trending topic but a critical discourse for the current state and future trajectory of the biotech sector. This underscored its transformative impact on innovation, workplace culture, and the industry's overall success.

Jennifer Hairston highlighted the importance of authenticity, encouraging individuals not to dim their light or alter their true selves to appease others. Emphasizing the significance of showing up fully as one's authentic self while maintaining professionalism, her point resonated across the discussion as the panelists stressed the critical role of diversity as a core value, cautioning against mere tokenism or treating it as a publicity stunt. They collectively emphasized that genuine commitment to diversity is essential for driving innovation and fostering an inclusive environment.

Jeremy Dow shared a compelling perspective during the discussion, shedding light on his impactful work in creating programs at Mann that provide safe spaces for students to thrive and receive support. Drawing from his personal experience as a student at the institution, Jeremy revealed that his motivation stemmed from the lack of programs catering to his specific needs during his academic journey. He emphasized the transformative power of tailored initiatives in fostering a sense of belonging and support for students, creating environments where individuals from diverse backgrounds can excel academically and find necessary encouragement to navigate challenges successfully.

Deborah Shepard contributed a valuable perspective on the importance of working with companies in LA to increase diversity in workplace environments. She emphasized the need to make jobs a safe place for all to thrive, advocating for the implementation of systems that allow everyone to have an equal opportunity for growth within a company. Deborah’s point underscored the overarching theme of creating inclusive environments not only in biotech and STEM but across all industries, making a compelling case for diversity as a driving force for innovation and progress. Moreover, the discussion extended to the vital topic of diversity in healthcare, with Dan Witzling taking a lead in addressing the pervasive issue of mistrust within diverse communities toward healthcare professionals. The panelists acknowledged the historical and systemic factors contributing to this challenge and stressed the importance of building trust through meaningful engagement, culturally competent care, and increased representation within healthcare organizations. The conversation highlighted the pressing need to address these issues urgently, fostering a sense of trust and collaboration between diverse communities and healthcare professionals.

The night concluded with a Networking Happy Hour that provided a platform for attendees to interact with event speakers, student-run organizations, and sponsors. Eli Lilly, KGI, and SULA Labs engaged directly with participants, reinforcing their commitment to diversity and inclusion in STEM. Student organizations like Ameba, USC SACNAS, UCLA SACNAS, Black Scholars in Bioscience-UCLA, and the Middle Eastern Pharmacists Association at USC Mann showcased their initiatives, fostering connections and discussions on advancing diversity in STEM. The event served not only as a celebration of accomplishments but also as a catalyst for meaningful connections, collaborations, and a renewed commitment to fostering diversity in STEM fields.

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