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Hispanic scientists inspiring the next generation

UTMSI researchers focus on mentoring
Hispanic scientists inspiring the next generation
Posted at 9:20 AM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 10:22:15-04

PORT ARANSAS, Texas — "Going even just to college was never just for me it was for all of us."

Benjamin Negrete Jr., a PhD candidate at The University of Texas Austin Marine Science Institute (UTMSI), shares his experience as a first-generation college student.

Many other first-generation college students say they've had a similar experience with parents making sacrifices to support their child on the road to higher education.

Negrete remembers his parents saying: "That's OK, cause you're gonna pay us back when you get older. You're gonna pay us back when you're a professional because you're gonna go to college and become a professional so you can take care of us' kind of thing."

Being a first-generation college student is challenging enough. But some Hispanics and other minority students say the journey can be a culture shock.

"Whether it was from a professor or whether it was from my friend's even, it was always 'you got that because you're Mexican'," Negrete said.

Originally from Mexico City, Dr. Valerie de Anda says she didn't have things like libraries and science labs growing up.

"You think that growing like that it's normal and when you talk to other people you realize that this is not normal," she says.

De Anda says international students are drawn to the United States because there are more research opportunities. Especially for female students, studying in the United States also is often safer and more inclusive.

"You kind of have to understand what is wrong in order to start changing," she says.

When she isn't studying microorganisms in the ocean, she spends time advocating for minority groups at science conferences.

"There's nobody in my family in Mexico that understands what I do," she says. "They just support me and they know that I travel a lot, but they started to kind of understand the impact of science with the pandemic."

These Hispanic scientists say more representation is needed and that starts with mentoring the next generation.

"What are these mysteries?" Negrete said. "That's hopefully the passion that we keep going and the child-like wonder that keeps many scientist try to tell you to hold on to.

"Because that's what keeps you asking questions, that's what keeps you going and research."