Posted by on October 17, 2022

For decades, investments have been made toward increasing the diversity of STEM students and professionals through education, outreach, and other strategies.  Unfortunately, these efforts have not resulted in degrees attained or professional workforces that reflect the demographics of our nation, southwest region, or state.  ¡MIRA! was created as a disruptive force in STEM, removing barriers between the worlds of STEM and cultural identities that often serve to limit the participation of women and historically minoritized communities.  In ¡MIRA!, science, engineering, cultures and identities are woven together like a sarape (¡MIRA! logo) to create a scientific home where students, faculty, staff, and community members are invited to engage in scientific discover, education, and innovation by bringing their individual and cultural identities to make ¡MIRA! and our scientific communities stronger. 

How does ¡MIRA! accomplish this? It starts with what truly makes ¡MIRA! unique and that is the people. ¡MIRA! students and faculty are >50% women and historically minoritized individuals, a number unheard of for a physical science research center, fields which on average graduate 2-5% Hispanic/Chicano/Indigenous PhDs in the country annually. The center thus reflects Arizona and the southwest and this matters! When ¡MIRA! engages with communities (see below) the engagement is a mirror of Hispanic/Chicano and Indigenous faculty and students and often in their own language. ¡MIRA! students find a home where their cultural identities are not only reflected but invited in to create the unique fabric that is ¡MIRA! Furthermore, students, faculty and staff are invited to engage through the many outreach initiatives led by ¡MIRA! faculty (see below). Importantly, ¡MIRA! is equally focused on its mission to diversify STEM as it is excellence in scientific research. This is an important element in setting a tone that success in one is not dependent upon sacrifice of the other, in fact, it’s just the opposite. By creating a synergistic continuum of activities and engagement from research to diversity ¡MIRA! seeks to change the game of how we truly and once and for all diversify STEM.

¡MIRA! cutting edge research

As a scientific research center ¡MIRA! is world class touting internationally recognized and awarded scientists and engineers, performing and communicating cutting-edge research tackling tomorrow’s greatest challenges (i.e. energy, environment, health) through materials technology development. MIRA scientists are advancing next-generation virus detection (e.g. COVID), generating networks for the near-future quantum computing age and much more. At every stage of scientific exploration and discovery is the most diverse STEM student population there is. Students, from first-semester undergraduates to final semester Ph.D’s, work hand in hand with MIRA’s world class faculty and staff solving tomorrow’s problems today.

¡MIRA!’s commitment to student access and inclusion-¡MIRA! Scholars

¡MIRA! supports students in multiple ways: supporting travel to attend STEM conferences such as the Annual National STEM in Diversity Conference led by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the ¡MIRA! Student Council that provides professional and educational development opportunities in a supportive environment, and the ¡MIRA! Scholars program.  ¡MIRA! scholars is a program the provides financial support to undergraduate students to perform cutting edge research with ¡MIRA! faculty.  Students are paid a a research stipend that allows them to participate in research without having to make financial sacrifices.  This is of incredible importance to first-generation and historically minoritized students that typically need to work to support their college experience and thus often miss out on important pathways to scientific research.  Although only two years old, the ¡MIRA! scholars program is proving to have a tremendous impact, creating opportunity for science students to work AS ACTUAL SCIENTISTS! 

¡MIRA! community engagement

The impact of MIRA only begins in the lab, the real impact is felt in the community. ¡MIRA! is a hub of outreach. Through partnerships including multiple national agency sponsored collaborations and the incredible commitment of ¡MIRA! faculty and staff, ¡MIRA! is helping to not only bring the world of discovery and innovation to local, regional, and national communities, it’s is doing so by implementing a strong commitment to maintaining the cultures of the ¡MIRA! community. As an example, MIRA has supported the Center for Quantum Networks (CQN) SPARCQS initiative (led by NAU CQN lead Dr. Ines Montaño) to bring quantum science to the communities of Arizona and beyond (see image- picture of SPARCQS trailer). This summer the SPARCQS team visited Az summer camps, engaged high school NAU interns (NAU CARES program led by ¡MIRA! faculty Dr. Naomi Lee), and engaged thousands of students at the Mall of America’s 30th anniversary Celebration of STEAM event! SPARCQS engages not just the student but the family and communities and does so in English and Spanish! (image of Ysaris guiding family in Spanish). This is a great representation of the unique approach and impact of ¡MIRA! and partners. This year ¡MIRA! faculty, students, and partners will be engaging communities at multiple levels. MIRA is flipping the script on scientific discovery and innovation via a cultural foundation and helping Arizona lead the way!

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