For the first time at USC, and for the first time in person since the COVID-19 pandemic, the oSTEM Region F conference took place at the university over March 26-27.
The conference was hosted by Queers in Engineering, Science and Technology (QuEST), a student organization at USC that focuses on the development of queer STEM majors and those interested in the STEM areas.
This year’s theme, “Choose Your Quest,” invited LGBTQ+ students and young professionals in STEM into a world of mystery, magic and queer solidarity.
“This is our first time hosting the regional conference,” said Lex Yu, a USC Viterbi computer science major and event programming chair for QuEST. “This conference is for the schools in the Western U.S. and Mexico, but we are part of a larger national organization called oSTEM. Usually there’s an oSTEM conference every year that we go to, but the last two years it’s been online.”
OSTEM is a larger nonprofit professional association that stands for “Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The organization has over 100 chapters in universities across the United States, making it the largest chapter-based organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ people in STEM.
“This conference was really meant to gather these students and young professionals from across the Western U.S. and Mexico, which is our region F, and give them a space to make connections, network, and further their own personal and professional journeys,” said Nick Nuccio, president of QuEST and a USC Viterbi chemical engineering student. “All of the conference programming focuses on two things, the first of which is giving participants tools for their training, whether that is how to apply for grad school or get perspectives from older people in that field about what it means to be queer in the industry or in academia. The second being enabling them to build connections with other schools and gather friends and peers to sort this dream.”
Split into two days, the conference started with a welcome lunch on Saturday, March 26. That same day, participants had the opportunity to take part in workshops where students and professionals had small gatherings and talked about being queer in STEM. Following that, the group had a Dungeons and Dragons game, that was turned into a charity benefit for Cuties LA, a Black-owned space for queer and trans community members. The day ended with a board game night.
Sunday, March 27, the second and final day of the conference, started with a tie dye activity, followed by a showcase of poster presentations. The presentations varied in themes, from diverse STEM projects the students had done in the past, to simply showing a topic of their interest. For example, one student made a presentation on how rice cookers work and how they achieve cooking rice to perfection every time. The poster presentation ended with a small award ceremony in which winners receive gift cards. The conference ended Sunday afternoon with a career fair.
Jackson Grenier made his presentation about finding his identity in rock climbing. The presentation was a hit and earned him a gift card. One of the judges mentioned that “they loved to hear about an identity that is so important and not normally talked about.” Grenier is a computer science student from UC San Diego, who traveled to Los Angeles with Serina Khanna, a mathematics and computer science student, also from UCSD. The pair took a bus from San Diego, and spent their weekend exploring Los Angeles after the conference was over.
“It was really fun, I liked watching the D&D session, I don’t have a lot of experience with it but I feel like it was cool to watch,” said Khanna. “I like most presentations, like (the one about) queer history in the U.S., I really liked that.”
Grenier said, “The speeches were really inspiring, it made me want to learn more about LGBT history, and I also learned more about LGBT history.”
With this being the first Western Region conference in person in several years, excitement was in the air for those traveling from both near and far.
“(My favorite event) definitely was the charity. There was a big sense of communion, everyone was working towards the same goal and they were really having fun,” said Nuccio. “The players in the game that we were watching were clearly having a lot of fun joking around and just getting really into it. The feeling of the audience supporting them was very inspirational and really summed up this whole theme of the conference that togetherness and community can help us move forward as a group.”
While there won’t be another F region conference until next year, QuEST has meetings every week and anyone is invited to join.
So far, this semester, QuEST has organized study nights, board game nights, and activities such as making tie dye and friendship bracelets. The club also has monthly trips such as thrifting days and beach events.
Meetings are every Thursday night from 8 pm to 9 pm at CPA 150.
Published on April 5th, 2022
Last updated on September 29th, 2022