Sanket Sabnis, a fifth-year doctoral student in Professor Wei Fan’s research group within the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department, has won the 2020 College of Engineering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award. As Sabnis has said, “I am from Mumbai, India, and I identify as a gay man.” In that context, as ChE Department Head John Klier wrote while nominating Sabnis for the award, “Sanket has made tremendous efforts and impact in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our department, the college, the university, and beyond.”
According to Klier, Sabnis is a highly accomplished researcher in the area of zeolite membranes and, in addition, has a very strong interest in a teaching career. As such, he has assisted in teaching many large undergraduate classes, including full responsibility for one semester of Thermodynamics 226, with very strong student feedback.
As Klier wrote about the activities of Sabnis in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, “Sanket is a leader in oSTEM [the “out in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” organization], a member for the graduate student leadership and diversity committee, and past president of the chemical engineering graduate students society.”
Klier added that he invited Sabnis to present seminars in the ChE department highlighting issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM and providing tips to be good allies. Sabnis also presented similar seminars in the Chemistry and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Departments.
According to Sabnis, after graduating with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, he moved in 2013 to the U.S. and joined a chemical engineering Ph.D. program at a large midwestern university.
“Being a closeted gay man [at the time],” said Sabnis “I suffered from poor mental health and depression during my time there and performed poorly in the graduate courses. I decided to leave the program and start my Ph.D. again at UMass Amherst in the fall of 2015.”
At UMass, Sabnis not only received some of the support he needed, but in turn became an effective activist for underrepresented minorities in STEM and worked toward developing a more inclusive environment for people from every background, sexual orientation, gender, race, and creed.
As Sabnis explained, “While in Amherst, I had the courage to come out to family and friends. This was only possible because of the support from my friends, who are also graduate students in STEM. The struggle that I faced because of the lack of support system and the lack of visibility of LGBTQ+ community motivated me to start taking efforts towards increasing equity and inclusion on campus, so that things get better for others.”
In the process, as Klier noted in his nomination material, Sabnis provided panel presentations on diversity and inclusion topics at the graduate school orientation and College of Engineering diversity recruitment events, and he also drove collaborations with the UMass Graduate Women in STEM organization.
“Outside of UMass,” noted Klier, “Sanket participated at the oSTEM national conference, Northampton Pride event, and talked at regional schools. He has been an incredible advocate and role model within our department for students, faculty, and staff alike.”
Klier added that “I have been incredibly impressed with and supportive of Sanket’s contributions to the department. He achieved all of this along with an exemplary academic and research record. I cannot think of a more deserving individual for this important award.”
As Sabnis summarized his diversity and inclusion efforts, “I committed myself to creating visibility for underrepresented minorities in STEM and have been striving to do that throughout my time in graduate school. I am also grateful to have a group of inclusive friends from various departments, who support this cause. I also love the UMass Amherst community and its dedication to creating an inclusive and equitable environment for all.” (May 2020)