13 September 2018

I Got My Ph.D. and So Can You! – Reflecting on Hispanic Heritage month

Posted by Joshua Speiser

Lorena Medina Luna, Education and Outreach Specialist, National Center for Atmospheric Research Education and Outreach Department

Dr. Lorena Medina Luna

When I was first asked to write this blog post, I had to think long and hard about what I would say. For me, this comes at an opportune time. For the past three years, I’ve been out of the academic setting and involved in science Education and Outreach (E&O). For the past year, I’ve been working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research as an E&O specialist creating videos on field campaigns, teaching college-level interns how to write and talk about their science, and organizing a science lecture series. Prior to that, I was a bilingual educator-performer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It wasn’t until I got out of academia that I realized that I am one of the few Hispanic/Latinas who have a Ph.D. in the geosciences, specifically in geophysics. My transition into E&O was inspired by my desire to encourage others to believe that everyone has the opportunity to attain higher education, provided they have the support to continue. This support comes in the form of family, friends, funding and programs that build a cohort and provide mentorship through a student’s academic career and beyond.

I was fortunate enough to have support through participating in a few of the many programs that help underrepresented minorities in the geosciences, including – the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded “Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation” as an undergrad, the NSF-funded “Mentoring Through Research as a Catalyst for Success in Geosciences” as a Masters student, and the “Rackham Merit Fellowship” at the University of Michigan. Not only is it important for me to raise awareness amongst college students from underrepresented groups about such programs and about careers in the geosciences, but also to inform parents who can encourage and support their kids in pursuing these careers. I am working on the awareness part through E&O at NCAR by creating bilingual Spanish-English material and working on creating a community of practice for bilingual science communication in the Geosciences.

Being asked to write this post made me realize that I hadn’t actively thought about Hispanic Heritage month. I wasn’t raised hearing my parents talk about the historic importance of Hispanics/Latinos in America, but rather I saw the contributions and hard work of my parents, family members, and family friends. I’ve seen the struggles and heard the life stories. My parents came from Mexico to offer my sisters and me a better life, better education and better career opportunities that are available in the United States. Coming from Mexico, my parents worked “en la pisca”, they labored in the fields picking cherries and harvesting other produce in central California, very different than the career as surgeon that my dad had studied for in Mexico. My parents know the value of education, but also know the hard work needed to get into higher education.

To me, Hispanic heritage month means a lot:

  • It is a time to strengthen the pursuit of what you’re passionate about
  • It is a time to build self-resilience against the naysayers
  • It is a time to help others succeed alongside you
  • It is a time to learn something new about your own culture, to learn about different cultures around you, and to share your culture with others
  • It is a time to be an advocate for yourself, and for others around you
  • It is a time to show others that you can surpass your struggles, and that there is solidarity with others in achieving your dreams

Whenever I meet someone who asks me why I decided to get out of research and work in education and outreach, I tell them that I want people to know that “I got my Ph.D., and so can you!”