Mat Perez-Neut, Advisor Yingming Zhao in Cancer Biology, has been awarded the UChicagoGRAD Diversity Advisory Board (DAB) 2021 Diversity Award. The intention of the Diversity Awards is to recognize, honor, and celebrate the significant campus and community contributions of underrepresented/historically marginalized graduate students at the University of Chicago that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Mat Perez-Neut is a PhD candidate in the Committee on Cancer Biology within the Biological Sciences Division (BSD). Since beginning his PhD, Mat has been involved in various leadership roles that have focused on enhancing diversity and inclusion in the sciences. He was a peer mentor for the NCI supported Chicago EYES (Educators and Youth Enjoy Science) for three consecutive summers, and has continually served as a mentor to several students through the NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD). In 2016, Mat became the co-President along with Cody Hernandez (Cell and Molecular Biology) for the University of Chicago Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter.
Together they organized the inaugural multi-institute regional SACNAS conference here at UChicago, a tradition that has persisted ever since. Noting that student-led groups like SACNAS were hurt by sustainability issues stemming from a lack of diversity among students, Mat co-founded the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) with Cody and Christina Roman (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology).
GRIT was created to focus on sustainably improving the recruitment and retention of marginalized groups in STEM. This goal required greater external recruitment efforts and a more focused/targeted remodeling of the BSD culture to foster greater inclusivity. The model was expanded into the Physical Sciences Division and to the University of Virginia (@UVA_GRIT) and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (@GRIT_UNC). GRIT had become one of the largest student organizations on campus, fulfilling a great service to the community. To legitimize the efforts of his peers, Mat co-led an initiative with Lizeth Tamayo (Public Health Sciences) to provide the proper recognition for work completed in diversity and inclusion. Lizeth and Mat created a concept called DEI-ships wherin 1 of the 2 BSD required TA-ships could be fulfilled by an approved community-focused project. Dean of Graduate Affairs, Vicky Prince, BDC co-Chiar, Dr. Eileen Dolan (Medicine), Lizeth, and Mat worked to have this project implemented within 6 months. Their collective effort resulted in a BSD policy revision that allows students to fulfill 1 of the 2 required TA-ships by doing an approved DEI-ship, scheduled to begin in fall quarter 2021.
Mat's leadership has permanently and positively changed the University of Chicago, especially within the BSD. Mat plans to defend in July. Grateful for the invaluable mentorship and experience he received at the University of Chicago, Mat acknowledges that one of his greatest strengths has always been his knack for surrounding himself with extraordinary mentors, mentees, peers, and friends.