Thanks to the CNR Enrichment Fund, I was able to attend the Out in STEM National Conference hosted by oSTEM, a professional organization for LGBTQ+ students and professionals. From the outset, attending this conference was a daunting opportunity as no one else in our oSTEM chapter was able to attend with me; I would need to seek out funding and scheduling on my own, and it took place in the dead middle of group project season. CNR, along with the Office of Undergraduate Research, were instrumental in making my attendance financially manageable. Despite being the only undergraduate from the entire State of North Carolina, I aimed to make an impact at the conference by presenting research that I performed with a interdisciplinary team at NC State, titled “From La Révolution to Now: Mapping Forest Change in Uxeau, France Over 253 Years.” This work used historical maps dating back to 1759 to quantify forest change to the modern day, along with land use data developed from satellite imagery. Due to the quality of my poster, presentation skills, and charismatic interest in my work, I tied for the Best Undergraduate Poster award! As a professional it was quite gratifying to be recognized for my work, but to me, personally, it was extremely rewarding to be recognized by the professionals in my own community. It gave a sense that “I’ve made it” as a successful undergraduate.

Besides winning a poster award, the various workshops aimed at undergraduates was extremely helpful in preparing me for being out as LGBT+ in my professional career. What was particularly influential to me was hearing from a group of panelists describing their first career experiences while being out as LGBT+. Many described the additional difficulties of working through the job market when each company and city deserves another level of scrutiny to understand they have environments where they can live as their authentic selves. Being able to see successful people in science and engineering that can live as their authentic selves and bring their all to work is inspiring and reassuring to me in my future endeavors. The conference also brought unique networking opportunities. I was able to meet LGBT+ graduate students from across the country who gave insightful feedback on my postgraduate plans of pursuing a gap year before attending graduate school. I feel reassured in my plan, and learned about how I can spend my time preparing for graduate school by learning new programs and investing time into connecting with faculty at different institutions to see which would be good fits for me. I intend to use this advice to strategically plan for graduate school and the GRE. The shared experiences, good as well as bad, have made me further commit to building a career where my professional life and identity work in tandem to my benefit, not in separation from each other.