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Dean's Blog: Ciencia para todos

Last week, I shared my views on “fitting in” and this blog will discuss this topic again from another’s perspective. To commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month for the College of Science, I am thrilled to share words from our own Dr. Valerie Olmo, biology professor and student advisor.

As a Hispanic woman in the sciences (Biology), I have experienced first-hand the challenges of trying to keep my own identity while simultaneously trying to “fit in” with my colleagues at each level of my career starting from my undergraduate years up to my faculty appointment here at George Mason University.

As an undergraduate student coming from a disadvantaged background, I often felt misunderstood by my peers and professors because of my urban New York slang and body language. It wasn’t until I began undergraduate research that I felt like I belonged in the sciences.

My lab mates took the time to get to know me and, in time, we learned a lot from each other.

I learned that I don’t have to lose my slang if I can use the language that matters within my field- the language of science. At the same time, my lab mates learned that my body language was a necessary survival tool growing up in New York City. My colleagues also learned that I had overcome adversity they didn’t even know existed to get the opportunity to sit at the table alongside them analyzing the data that I collected.

By the end of my undergraduate years, it was clear to me that most people simply want to be seen and respected for who they are, myself included. If we all put our guard down just a little, I think we’ll find that we are more alike than dissimilar and have much to teach other.

Today, I am still moved by that undergraduate research experience. So much so, that I personally mentor a handful of undergraduate research projects every semester, teach a research-intensive upper-level biology lab elective, and am currently piloting a peer mentoring program aimed at improving the first-year biology student experience.

As a Puerto Rican woman, I feel a responsibility to serve as an example for students who ever doubt their place in Biology. Everyone belongs in the sciences. Every voice is necessary if we ever want our work to have a global impact.

I have every intention of continuing to leverage my unique point of view as a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx to bring the highest quality education to each student who steps into my classroom, advising session, or laboratory.

Thank you, Val for sharing your story and your passion for science for all.

I wholeheartedly share your view. In fact, last week I had the opportunity to appear on La Nueva TV and Radio for an interview about George Mason University (conducted entirely in Spanish) to explain academic and research opportunities at Mason. For those new to our College, I am originally from Venezuela and am bilingual. My family spends a considerable amount of time in Miami where I get to speak Spanish more often and I was thrilled to represent Mason in this energizing experience. I’m already looking forward to additional opportunities to share our science stories within Hispanic communities.

Mason created a landing page on the university’s website (Hola means hello in Spanish) to encourage engagement, not just for this Hispanic Heritage month but on an ongoing basis. Our college has an undergraduate brochure translated into Spanish that we will be making available on our site as well.

As the College makes bold steps forward with our AJEDI efforts, recall the A stands for Access. By doing these interviews and making marketing materials available in other languages, we make program information more accessible. And when our faculty like Dr. Olmo share their experiences, others can see that science opportunities exist at Mason, and success is indeed both possible and encouraged para todos (for all).   

Visit the dean's blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.