In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, NIH welcomed one of its recently retired employees, Dr. Ernest D. Márquez, to speak about his experiences and the importance of diversity in the scientific workforce. Opening with a hearty “¡Buenos días!” he stood before an audience that included NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, a group of students from Wheaton High School and a diverse audience.
Márquez, president of the board of directors of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), grew up in a poor, immigrant family. He said his early experience gave him built-in role models and taught him to be inventive and entrepreneurial. He also emphasized the importance of mentoring. “As I look back on my career, mentoring created the turning points in my life,” he said.
SACNAS puts a strong focus on mentorship, and with a membership of more than 30,000 students and professionals from institutions across the country and Puerto Rico, it offers ample opportunities to foster mentoring relationships. The SACNAS chapter at NIH, some of whose members were in the audience, provides support for mentoring and personal networking and “will enhance efforts to attract, recruit and retain under-represented minority (URM) scientists,” said Márquez.
Altogether, minorities made up 28.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2007. The total of URM in the science and engineering workforce, however, was only 9.1 percent of total doctorates, 4.7 percent of whom were Hispanics. “Should we be concerned that only 9.1 percent of college-educated URM Americans are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM]? Yes! Because this suggests that the proportion of URM would need to triple to match their share of the overall U.S. population,” said Márquez, quoting from a recent National Academies report.
|Above, from l: Márquez, an NIH alumnus, greets friends who came to hear him speak at the event. He says NIH can help make connections between scientists and underserved communities, as well as encourage principal investigator, postdoc and training fellow participation at national conferences and regional meetings.
He stressed that diversity in scientific research is critical because it brings different perspectives and approaches to solving complex problems; contributes to the health of the nation by expanding the STEM talent pool and improving the nation’s global research; and offers insights on how to meet the needs of underserved communities and thereby resolve health disparities.
Displaying a graph of URM involvement in STEM professions, with Hispanics well below the Caucasian average, Márquez remained optimistic. “I could show you this graph and say, ‘Oh, what horrible data.’ But instead I’d like to say, ‘Look at the wonderful opportunity coming toward us.’ Yes, this line is down at the bottom, but somewhere around 2004 it started taking an upward tick. Something’s working, so let’s seize that and continue to make it better,” he said.
Students from Wheaton High School were special guests at the observance.
Photos: Ernie Branson
While SACNAS’s relationship with NIH is still in the early stages, Márquez believes there is a lot NIH will be able to do, such as helping make connections between scientists and underserved communities, as well as encouraging principal investigator, postdoc and training fellow participation at national conferences and regional meetings.
“The bottom line here is that there’s lots of room for improvement. How we achieve that critical improvement is going to depend on what we do in the next 5 to 10 years,” said Márquez. “The historical underrepresentation of minority scientists has to improve dramatically. It just has to!”