Northern Arizona University knows that diversity of thought turns challenges into solutions, and the university continues to welcome diversity through its new research center.
The Northern Arizona University (NAU) Center for Materials Interfaces in Research and Applications, also referred to as ¡MIRA!, is geared to be a center of inclusivity for diverse students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
¡MIRA!, which means ‘look’ in Spanish, is set to represent Arizona’s diversity and combat the barriers underrepresented students face.
“Barriers that exist, they’re not unique to NAU. They’re not unique to Arizona. They’re not unique to the southwest. There is a systemic problem across the country,” said Gabriel Montaño, MIRA chief scientist.
Montaño explained that people naturally have a resistance to change, so they usually hire and connect with “what they know.”
“We’re recognizing the flaws of the system and we’re doing everything we can to combat that because we know that it’s a lot,” Montaño said.
“We embrace diversity of thought and even cultures. We understand that that’s how you solve complex problems,” he said. “Most of the problems in science and STEM are really what we call complex, hard problems. They require input from various perspectives.”
¡MIRA! proves its dedication to embracing diversity through its staff. Of the participating faculty, 50 percent are from underrepresented minorities or are women.
“That’s unheard of in this type of materials research,” Montaño said.
In addition to providing a welcoming environment for underrepresented students, ¡MIRA! will help students connect with industry professionals.
“Networking is key and it’s something that we’re pretty good at. [¡MIRA! leadership has] spent a lot of time trying to figure that out and we’ve done a lot of it in our previous work,” Montaño said.
¡MIRA! focuses on materials science, which is an interdisciplinary field in that it applies to varying areas of science and engineering. The center will address the need for well-rounded STEM professionals with interdisciplinary skills.
“We want this to be a premier research experience for the students. We want this institute- not just underrepresented students, but all students that are coming in to our program- we want them to have the best research experience they can get,” Montaño explained.
¡MIRA! had a soft launch in the spring 2019 semester and will be in full operation fall 2019.