Conference showcases OSU’s scientific excellence, commitment to diversity in STEM

Line art depicting a conference of people listening to a speaker.

When the foremost organization driving diversity in STEM fields holds the country’s largest multidisciplinary, multicultural scientific conference in the Beaver State, there was no question Oregon State University would participate. 

And by sponsoring NDiSTEM — the National Diversity in STEM Conference in Portland in October 2023 — a once-in-a-generation opportunity is paying off.

Supporting an off-campus event of such magnitude has never been done before, according to Patrick McBrien, director of recruitment and admissions in the Graduate School. But Oregon State leadership wanted to send a strong message.

“We set out to demonstrate the university’s commitment to scientific excellence, to supporting historically marginalized communities and increasing diversity in STEM,” McBrien says. 

It was a unifying moment, with more than 170 people from Oregon State attending. They included students representing the OSU chapter of SACNAS, the Society For Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, staff and faculty from 10 colleges, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the offices of the President and Provost, University Relations and Marketing and the Office of Faculty Affairs. 

“That it would align tremendously with our institution’s identity, resting on twin pillars of commitment to diversity and scientific excellence … it was really validating to see this grow and grow,” McBrien says.

Networking was an important component of the conference. President Jayathi Y. Murthy spoke at the opening ceremony. Later, Oregon State hosted a breakfast. There were breakout sessions called Conversations with Scientists, which featured faculty leading discussions on scientific topics and a campus visit by bus. 

“The opportunities for engagement were second to none,” McBrien says. 

Two-thirds of graduate students come to Oregon State from outside Oregon, including about one-quarter of the total from outside the United States.

“Fostering a welcoming, inclusive community is absolutely essential to student success,” McBrien says. “We want to provide them a sense of belonging.”

It may be a few years before the impact of sponsorship and participation in the conference is fully known. However, there has already been an increase in the volume of graduate school applications this year from prospective students identifying with these populations. 

“As an immediate indicator, there are encouraging signs,” McBrien says. 

“People thought it was extraordinary. We heard from prospective students who said it changed their idea of Oregon State. That’s exactly what you want to hear.”

Sponsoring the conference is one of many things the university does to support the enrollment of historically marginalized students. Other efforts at the Graduate School include encouraging a holistic admissions processes and widening the evidence base of what is considered when choosing people for academic programs. The Graduate School is also revising transcript policies to lessen the financial burden for prospective students and amending English language proficiency requirements.

“It’s been really satisfying to reduce financial and other barriers for prospective students,” McBrien says. 

The NDiSTEM conference aligns with this work. It also represents a pivotal point in institutional efforts and demonstrates the potential for future outreach.

“As a STEM-centric institution, our research and academics benefit from the inclusion of diverse perspectives. We need to actively transform in the wake of demographic change,”
McBrien says.

“Our work has just begun.”