You have accomplished so much for only being in your early thirties. (Including earning a Ph.D!) What drives you to work so hard in your professional life?
I grew up in a family that encouraged my siblings and I to pursue any career we wanted to, as long as we worked hard and took advantage of all the opportunities we were offered along the way. Once we moved to the United States, I felt so appreciative of having access to so many resources, facilities, and opportunities to advance my career, that it seemed almost irresponsible not to make use of them to develop my intellectual knowledge and curiosity. I started my education at a community college, and immediately became involved in the student community holding various leadership roles. I then transferred to the University of California, San Diego, where I immediately began conducting independent research on the biology of honey bees. That led me to pursue a Ph. D. in behavioral ecology, a field that I find incredibly interesting and necessary.
I am living proof that hard work and dedication opens up new doors of opportunity that one should open. I am driven by my curiosity and fascination for science and discovery, and I hope to continue opening doors and finding more interesting things about honey bees and other aspects of biology in the years to come.
You were born and raised in Colombia and now live in the U.S. How do you feel your upbringing has impacted where you are today?
My family and I moved to the United States from Colombia in 1998. One of the driving forces behind our move was the availability of resources and opportunities for higher education in this country. I think that my humble beginnings as a typical Colombian woman have kept me grounded and grateful for every opportunity I have been offered. I have come a long way, from having grown up in a small city in the mountains of Colombia, to having obtained a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university in the United States, and now holding a position as Assistant Professor at a major research university in the United States. All of these accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of my family, especially my mother, who gave me the freedom to choose this path in life from an early age, but also supported me along the way, always reminding me of how thankful we shall always be of having moved to this country to pursue our dreams.
How do you feel that you influence the Latino community with your work?
Throughout my career I have made an effort to include and (hopefully) recruit people belonging to underrepresented minorities, especially Latin American women, into the biological science. I am probably the only Latin American woman in the United States holding a position as leader of a honey bee research group at a major tier-one university. I do not take this responsibility lightly. I try to encourage women and students from diverse backgrounds to continue their education and to consider graduate school in the future.
Having the Latino culture in common, I have come in contact with a lot of Spanish-speaking people that are interested in learning more about honey bees but might not have known where to find resources otherwise. And by forging collaborations and communicating with folks back in Colombia, Costa Rica (where I did a lot of my first work with bees), and other Latin American countries, I have been able to share the results of my research studies with people that would have probably never had access to the research findings in the past.