Keynote and Featured Speakers

Conference Convener: Secretary Deb Haaland

Secretary Deb Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. 

Secretary Haaland grew up in a military family; her father was a 30-year combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star Medal for saving six lives in Vietnam, and her mother is a Navy veteran who served as a federal employee for 25 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a military child, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque.  

As a single mother, Secretary Haaland volunteered at her child’s pre-school to afford early childhood education. Like many parents, she had to rely on food stamps at times as a single parent, lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggled to put herself through college. At the age of 28, Haaland enrolled at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her J.D. from UNM Law School. Secretary Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans. 

Secretary Haaland ran her own small business producing and canning Pueblo Salsa, served as a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo, and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to create policies and commitments to environmentally friendly business practices. 

Throughout her career in public service, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations.  

After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Secretary Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. In Congress, she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.

Emcee: Dr. Regina Barber DeGraaff

Regina Barber DeGraaff is a Mexican Taiwanese American, first-gen college student, pop-culture-obsessed, astrophysicist. She teaches physics, astronomy, and science communication at Western Washington University (WWU). Regina grew up in a rural town north of Seattle and spent summers in Southern California. She is so grateful to have found a place in the SACNAS community. 

While attending the 2014 Sacnas Leadership Institute, Regina was motivated to create a position devoted to the retention and support of historically excluded students, staff and faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). She accomplished this goal and now occupies a half-time role as the STEM Inclusion and Outreach Specialist at WWU. Regina advises several STEM clubs (such as the WWU SACNAS Chapter), hiring committees, grant-funded programs, and university inclusion committees. She also facilitates co-created equity workshops, serves on the Faculty & Staff of Color Council Executive Board, and plans inclusion events. 

In 2015 Regina co-created and began to host the radio show (KMRE) & WWU podcast Spark Science. This show has over 100 episodes and strives to humanize the scientist and make STEM accessible. Through all her efforts, Regina’s goal is to break apart and expose the scientist stereotype so that anyone can see themselves in science.

Keynote: Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa

Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa

Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, commonly known as Dr. Q, received his medical degree from Harvard University and completed his residency in neurosurgery at the University of California, San Francisco, where he also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in developmental and stem cell biology. His career began at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he became a Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology, Neurology, and Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Director of the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory. Nowadays, he is the “William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professor” and Chair of the Neurological Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida.

Dr. Quiñones is known internationally as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist who leads NIH-funded research to cure brain cancer. He has published numerous peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, edited neurosurgical texts and published his memoir, “Becoming Dr. Q”, in both English and Spanish. He has also been recognized with several prestigious awards, including being named as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in 2008. He was also selected by Popular Science Magazine as one of their 6th Annual Brilliant Ten in their search for young genius influencing the course of science. He has received honorary degrees from Southern Vermont College and Lackawanna College, as well as the University of Notre Dame. He was awarded the Cortes de Cadiz Prize in the category of surgery by the council of Cadiz, Spain, and was also named by Forbes as “one of the most creative Mexicans”.

Keynote: Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Dr. Chandra Prescott-Weinstein

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and core faculty in women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire. The author of The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, she is also a columnist for New Scientist and Physics World. Her research in theoretical physics focuses on cosmology, neutron stars, and dark matter. She also does research in Black feminist science, technology, and society studies. Nature recognized her as one of 10 people who shaped science in 2020, and Essence magazine has recognized her as one of “15 Black Women Who Are Paving the Way in STEM and Breaking Barriers.” A cofounder of Particles for Justice, she received the 2017 LGBT+ Physicists Acknowledgement of Excellence Award for her contributions to improving conditions for marginalized people in physics and the 2021 American Physical Society Edward A. Bouchet Award for her contributions to particle cosmology. Originally from East L.A., she divides her time between the New Hampshire Seacoast and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Keynote: Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer

Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer

Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, plant ecologist, writer and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. She is the founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability. Of European and Anishinaabe ancestry, Robin is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her research interests include the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration. In collaboration with tribal partners, she and her students have an active research program in the ecology and restoration of plants of cultural significance to Native people. She is active in efforts to broaden access to environmental science education for Native students, and to create new models for integration of indigenous philosophy and scientific tools on behalf of land and culture. She is engaged in programs which introduce the benefits of traditional ecological knowledge to the scientific community, in a way that respects and protects indigenous knowledge.  

Dr. Kimmerer has taught courses in botany, ecology, ethnobotany and indigenous environmental issues. She is the co-founder and past president of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge section of the Ecological Society of America.  Dr. Kimmerer serves as a Senior Fellow for the Center for Nature and Humans. As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. Dr. Kimmerer is the author of numerous scientific papers on the ecology of mosses and restoration ecology and on the contributions of traditional ecological knowledge to our understanding of the natural world. She is also active in literary biology. Her essays appear in Whole Terrain, Adirondack Life, Orion and several anthologies. She is the author of “Gathering Moss” which incorporates both traditional indigenous knowledge and scientific perspectives and was awarded the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. Her latest book “Braiding Sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants” which was awarded the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award.    She holds a BS in Botany from SUNY ESF, an MS and PhD in Botany from the University of Wisconsin and is the author of numerous scientific papers on plant ecology, bryophyte ecology, traditional knowledge and restoration ecology. As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild. 

Featured Speaker: Dr. Desi Small Rodriguez

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A proud rez girl from Lame Deer, Montana, Desi is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and Chicana. She was born and raised on Cheyenne homelands where real and imagined reservation borders cross everyone. Desi is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has partnered with Indigenous communities in the U.S. and internationally as a researcher and data advocate for more than ten years. 

Desi’s research examines the intersection of race, indigeneity, data, and inequality.  With a focus on Indigenous futures, her current research explores the racialization of Indigenous identity and group boundary making, Indigenous population statistics, and data for health and economic justice on Indian Reservations.  Desi directs the Data Warriors Lab, an Indigenous social science laboratory. She is the Co-Founder of the U.S. Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network, which helps ensure that data for and about Indigenous nations and peoples in the U.S. (American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) are utilized to advance Indigenous aspirations for collective and individual wellbeing. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Database.   

Featured Speaker: Dr. Drew Lanham

Dr. Drew Lanham

Drew Lanham is a native of Edgefield and Aiken, South Carolina. He holds an endowed chair as an Alumni Distinguished Professor and was named an Alumni Master Teacher in 2012. Dr. Lanham is a widely published author and award-nominated poet, writing about his experiences as a birder, hunter and wild, wandering soul. He is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature and Sparrow Envy.

Featured Speaker: Rafael D. Alvarez

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Rafael D. Alvarez is the Director of the San Diego City College (SDCC) Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program, an academic support program for students transferring to four year universities in STEM majors. He founded the SDCC MESA Program in 2000, and he uses learning culture to transform the lives of his students, who know him as the Corner Man! Like his MESA students, Rafael was once a first-generation college student, economically disadvantaged, and underrepresented in a STEM major. Based on his personal experience as an undergraduate student and as the SDCC MESA Program Director, Rafael has begun a learning culture revolution in higher education as the author of Turning on the Lights: Using Learning Culture to Increase Student Success. Rafael has earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Harvey Mudd College and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California.