Aldrin James B. Gaffud, a sixth-year senior, seeking dual degrees in civil engineering and architecture, received the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering’s Service to the Global Community Award for their global awareness and dedication in humanitarianism. Gaffud reestablished the Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) student organization with a friend, Brandon Grandison, because they saw a dire need for diversity in STEM and a lack of support given to LGBTQIA+ students in these spaces.
The UF student chapter was originally created in 2013 and dissolved in 2016. After it was reactivated in 2018, Gaffud led the organization as president for two years. Since its reinstatement, the group held professional networking events with tech companies, paid for students to attend the annual oSTEM National Conference and created sub-organizations in the chapter that are specific to different colleges and departments. During the spring semester, oSTEM hosted queer graduate students and faculty where they presented their research areas.
“College is overwhelming, especially coming from a marginalized community, and things like sexuality and gender identity should not be inhibitors to learning. At the end of the day, I hope the impact for LGBTQIA+ people in STEM is: you deserve a seat at the table, and you are allowed to take up space,” Gaffud said. “I want their experiences and navigation of STEM spaces, which are extremely heteronormative and male-dominated, to be easier than my own. That is why I wanted oSTEM to exist—to be a space for queer students to find that support.”
Gaffud said that their involvement is a piece of a larger progressive movement for the LGBTQIA+ community. Revitalizing oSTEM inspired them by meeting and connecting with people who made them more passionate about their impending career. After graduation and taking a gap year, they plan to pursue a master’s in architecture and eventually, a doctoral degree to fulfill their dream of being a professor.
“I learned that there are no openly queer Nobel laureates in STEM, and I considered that a challenge. Because of my own experiences in academia and the minimal amount of openly queer professors, my ultimate professional aspiration is to become a professor,” they added.
Gaffud is the first student in more than a decade to pursue dual degrees in architecture and civil engineering at UF. They pursued engineering because of their tactile skills and interest in science and mathematics. They credit their experience with student organizations helping them become the person they are today.
“Through oSTEM and other organizations I have been involved in, I found friends that have been crucial to my success in college because they laughed with me when I needed joy and cried with me when I needed empathy in this very difficult academic environment. One of the most important things you can do to survive as a student is finding your community and support network,” Gaffud said.
oSTEM provides all LGBTQIA+ scholars academic and professional resources as well as queer-specific resources that can cater to specific niches and intersections in the LGBTQA+ community. For more information, visit https://www.instagram.com/ostemflorida.
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