Chemistry undergraduates recognized at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Showcase

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (05/03/2022)—Chemistry undergraduate students Yukino Nakamura, Jeffy Jeffy, and Ulises Perez were recognized at the 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Leadership Showcase, held on March 30. This event, presented by the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), highlighted the many DEI-focused student contributions in the areas of student advocacy, volunteer work, and engagement that have a positive impact on CSE, the University, and the Twin Cities communities through DEI initiatives.

Yukino Nakamura received the CSE Engagement Award, which recognizes a CSE undergraduate student who has consistently engaged with DEI efforts in pursuit of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive climate within the college. Nakamura was commended for her significant contributions to the chemistry department's DEI work, where she serves in a leadership role and has created new opportunities for her peers to engage in conversations around DEI topics.

Nakamura was driven to create supportive environments on campus, especially for students with different, non-traditional backgrounds, after having a difficult time adjusting to the University environment due to her own background and identities. Her leadership within the department's DEI committee has allowed her to reflect on ways in which the student learning experience can be enhanced through inclusive teaching and to facilitate equitable changes within the classroom.

“To offer more direct support to students, I became a student mentor for the Center of Academic Planning and Exploration (CAPE) and CSE Ambassadors to share my stories, provide access to resources, and empower chemistry students to reach their personal and academic goals,” says Nakamura. “When I became confident in my chemistry abilities as a senior, I became a ChemFoundations leader for general chemistry to reduce the barriers typically associated with introductory STEM courses, aka ‘weed-out’ courses.”

Through continuous engagement in DEI work, Nakamura sought opportunities for change that extended beyond campus, both to utilize what she has learned and to discover how different hardships warrant different solutions that, with direct involvement with the community, could be addressed properly. Read more about Nakamura’s research and DEI work in her own words.

In addition to her CSE award, Nakamura has been recognized for her leadership by the University. She recently received both the President’s Student Leadership and Service Award and the Donald R. Zander Alumni Award for Outstanding Student Leadership.

Nakamura plans to continue with research after graduation, hopefully in a health sciences field, with the long-term goal of practicing medicine through an intersectional, trauma-informed lens while also working to break down barriers to healthcare access through involvement in health policy and engagement with local communities.

Jeffy Jeffy was a Finalist for the CSE Leadership Award, which recognizes a CSE undergraduate student who has exercised their leadership in pursuit of a more diverse, equitable, and/or inclusive climate within the college.

Jeffy, a President's Emerging Scholar (PES), serves in several leadership roles related to inclusivity. As the Vice President of the University of Minnesota Rocket Team, her focus is outreach to K12 students and providing more opportunities for high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to learn more about aerospace as a hobby and a career. As the CSE PES Program Coordinator, she has been instrumental in growing and expanding programming. She also serves as the program coordinator for the CSE DEI Team. In this role, she helped organize and plan the DEI Leadership Showcase.

Jeffy is currently involved in research related to drug design and discovery with Professor Yuk Sham (Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology) and Professor Ramaiah Muthyala (Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology). She will soon head to the University of California, Berkeley to pursue her graduate education and she hopes to continue working towards research in computational chemistry and drug development.

Ulises Perez was a Finalist for the First Generation Undergraduate STEM Student of the Year Award, which recognizes an outstanding undergraduate student whose parents/guardians do not hold a college degree.

Perez is a first-generation Latino whose family came from Mexico. He first became interested in chemistry during his final year of high school because of his teacher, and his current mentors have continued to fuel his passion.

Perez is an undergraduate researcher in the Frontiera group, where he is currently working on a project that is using Raman spectroscopy to investigate a polymer mediated gene delivery mechanism as a cheaper alternative for traditional gene therapies. After graduation, he plans to earn a PhD in chemistry and become a professor in chemistry. He is motivated by his desire to educate the future generations of students and to provide disadvantaged students the support they need to succeed.