Illustration of scientist with a microscope

Professor brings together scientists of color in speaker series

October 12, 2020

Research & Innovation

In the period directly after the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests against systemic racism that followed, Omar Quintero, an associate professor of biology at UR considered how he might find a way to support the work and careers of Black scientists. He decided to develop a seminar, the 2020 Scientist of Color Speaker Series. 

“I was starting to fill seminar slots for the department seminar series,” Quintero said, “I thought: ‘Everybody's going to have to Zoom in anyway. Why not make a concerted effort to fill the seminar opportunities with scientists from marginalized backgrounds and particularly Black scientists, who are earlier in their careers?’ Postdoctoral fellows would get exposure and be able to practice giving talks. Junior faculty would have another opportunity to interact with students and faculty.”

With that in mind, he started contacting other scientists around the country.

“I sit on one of the advisory boards at the Allen Institute for Cell Science," Quintero said. "In addition to pushing the state of the art for cell biology research, they are experienced in managing webinars, and are investing in improving inclusive practices. I asked them if they were interested in partnering with us for the webinar series, and they were onboard right away. They helped us figure out how to run the series. Because of the ability to host larger webinars, we are able to share the seminar series more broadly than just UR students. Faculty and students from other institutions are participating as well. This ability to share with the community would not have happened without the Allen Institute partnership.

 

I saw this as a concrete, tangible, and immediate step to support Black scientists on academic trajectories.
headshot of Omar Quintero
Omar Quintero

Associate Professor of Biology

The series, which began in August, will run weekly throughout the fall semester and the first half of the spring semester. The seminar features scientists speaking about varied topics related to their research in biology, as well as the paths their careers took. 

The series is named in honor of its keynote speaker — one of Quintero’s mentors — cell biologist George M. Langford, distinguished professor of neuroscience and professor of biology at Syracuse University.

“Professors have to recognize that a lot of research has been done to identify ways to create inclusive environments for students of color," Langford said. “Fortunately, UR has been a leader in this endeavor and has faculty members, like professor Quintero, who incorporate inclusive pedagogy in their courses. I urge us all to embrace humility so that we are better able to listen and learn to address institutional barriers that cause students of color to turn away from science.”

Langford said in his entire career — spanning four decades — he’s been the only African American scientist in his department.

“Before George, the only other African American scientists that I knew were the ones that you learned about in high school like George Washington Carver,” Quintero said. “There's a big gap in the historical timeline between George Washington Carver and George Langford, and I didn't want that to exist for other people.”

Quintero worked on the series with Christie Lacy, director of microscopy and imaging in the UR biology department, and they agreed naming the series after Langford would serve to recognize his contributions to science as well as his commitment to mentorship and inclusion. 

Quintero said the series is aimed at undergraduate students who are considering careers in STEM fields, and the speakers are a mix of post-doctoral researchers, pre-tenure junior faculty, and tenured faculty. 

“I saw this as a concrete, tangible, and immediate step to support Black scientists on academic trajectories,” Quintero said.  

Hijab Fatima, a UR senior majoring in biology described her reaction to the talks: "As a woman of color in STEM, it feels as if someone has given me a mirror to see myself in these inspiring scientists."