Home VanguardSTEM #WCWinSTEM: Yaihara Fortis Santiago, Ph.D.
#WCWinSTEM: Yaihara Fortis Santiago, Ph.D.

#WCWinSTEM: Yaihara Fortis Santiago, Ph.D.


This week’s #WCWinSTEM is Dr. Yaihara Fortis Santiago, director of the Science Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences.

As compiled by Chrystelle Vilfranc

Dr. Yaihara Fortis Santiago currently serves as director of the Science Alliance, which is the professional development branch of the New York Academy of Sciences. In this role, Yaihara develops and implements innovative workshops and courses to provide early career scientists with a range of skills, including business skills that will be essential for all careers. Dr. Fortis Santiago obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico and her doctoral degree in Neuroscience from Brandeis University. Her doctoral research focused on studying the role of multi-sensory integration in taste processing.

In 2014, Fortis Santiago completed the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship under the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). During her time as a fellow, she worked at the National Science Foundation (NSF) on programs that transform the frontiers of STEM fields using innovative multidisciplinary approaches and inter-institutional collaborations. At NSF, she also worked at the International office on programs that fund researchers and students to conduct research in international settings.

Currently, Yaihara works closely with professional and career development offices along with student/postdoctoral organizations to consolidate resources and implement new ideas for helping early career scientists find the best direction for their STEM PhD journey. Fortis Santiago has delivered over 40 professional seminars nationwide on topics such as leadership, networking, building professional networks and developing transferable skills. Fortis Santiago also mentors underrepresented students who face difficulty in academia. She says:

“I feel comfortable sharing my story and my challenges, in an effort to serve as a role model for them. I explain that I value each day spent in graduate school (and some days were HARD!) and the lessons learned, because they built my resilience and forced me to develop ‘other’ skills to deal with similar situations that I have faced in other professional settings.”

Fortis Santiago feels fulfilled in knowing that she is helping to influence some of the world’s best scientists. In the photo below, she is seen with the 2014 National Science Foundation summer interns from various programs for students of color (including HACU, WINS, AISE and QEM) after giving a workshop on the importance of networking and building professional networks.




Fortis Santiago on highlighting #WOCinSTEM

As a Puerto Rican native, Dr. Fortis Santiago never considered herself a #WOC or an underrepresented minority. At the University of Puerto Rico (a Hispanic Serving Institution), Hispanics/Latinos (especially Puerto Ricans) are the majority in the science classrooms and in the research labs. Fortis Santiago recalls first learning that she was an underrepresented minority during a summer research internship at Columbia University. There she recalls realizing:

“I was carrying a community on my shoulders everywhere I went in the scientific enterprise. I had to learn from scratch what that represented and about the historical context of being part of an underrepresented minority group (URM) on the mainland. In a way, my lack of awareness of being a WOC, protected me from micro-aggressions and the impostor syndrome during the first couple of years.”

Fortis Santiago became involved with the Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Sciences (SACNAS) and Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR). SACNAS and CienciaPR have allowed her to assemble a familia of incredible, talented and committed professionals that share her passion to advance the careers of students from URM groups. Yaihara is completely comfortable with every aspect of her identity. She says, “ I bring my whole self into my job every day and into everything I do. ” She is well aware that at times, this is difficult for some WOC; therefore, she finds it is important to identify and highlight other WOC who are powerhouses and have achieved success. This allows for WOC to learn from one another, connect with one another and build stronger communities amongst ourselves. Today young women, in particular, have some representation in the success stories of those who have journeyed before them. Identifying other #WOCinSTEM allows all of us, as a community, to be empowered and fearless in climbing to the top!

Thank you Dr. Fortis Santiago for all that you bring to the #STEM community!

We appreciate you! 


Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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