By: Sophia O’Brien

A presentation by SBS undergraduate junior, Eric Navarro, was one of the 117 winners of 1000+ student research presentations at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference on October 19-21.

SACNAS, which hosted the event, is the leading multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity organization in the country. The conference included over 4000 attendees and 1000 student research presentations in multidisciplinary fields.

When Navarro walked into the convention center, he said he felt awe at the number of people from under-represented communities pursuing STEM degrees.

“There wasn’t a lack of cultural experience either,” he said. “There were many different presentations throughout the conference showcasing the beauty of a range of cultures.”

Navarro was the only winner in the animal science/zoology field with his presentation, “Retention of learning through life stages in Xenopus laevis”. Xenopus laevis is commonly known as an African clawed frog. His research hopes to find the effects of early life (pre-metamorphosis) stress have on later life (post-metamorphosis) learning. This could translate into understanding the effects of stress on human babies in the womb and learning in later human life. Metamorphosis is typically viewed as a fresh start for an animal, like hatching, but if early life stress has negative effects on cognitive function after metamorphosis, then it would confirm newer hypotheses that some effects can be retained even through metamorphosis.

Navarro grew up in the small town of Quincy, WA where, due to lack of activities, he spent a lot of his time watching the animals around him react to stimuli. Navarro has always loved animals and science, but his curiosity is what has driven him into the world of animal behavior. He is a member of the Gamma Iota Omicron, Fraternity Inc., and one of the founding members of WSU SACNAS chapter.

His parents originated from Jalisco, Mexico before moving to the United States. Being of Mexican heritage, he has found it rare to find a person of color in a high-ranking position. In STEM, he said he has often felt uneasy about the lack of people of color pursuing degrees, and the lack of faculty members who have looked like him. Navarro believes role models can be found anywhere, but it’s harder to make a connection when you don’t have someone who understands how it feels to be a Mexican-American, first-generation college student. His goal is to become an academic in STEM, so that he can show someone like him, who is on the edge of continuing, that they can be successful in the field.

One of his goals for this year was to present at a big conference, and with the help of his mentor, Dr. Erica Crespi, SACNAS was his largest conference yet. No matter how smart one may be, he said, if findings aren’t communicated to other scientists and people outside the scientific community, the true potential of one’s research won’t be fulfilled.

In the future, Navarro plans to get a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. His interests lie in how the animal’s environment, if bad at any point in time, can have lasting impacts on the animal’s behavior. Eventually he hopes to enter academia or work as an animal behaviorist at a zoo.