National Hispanic Heritage Month, held annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, offers a chance to celebrate pioneering Hispanic scientists, engineers and innovators. It recognizes the work that Hispanic leaders in the scientific enterprise do every day to engage with members of the public about science and inspire the next generation of scientific minds.
Today, learn about several Hispanic scientists who have been honored with AAAS awards.
Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta studies soil and food quality and environmental contamination, and was recognized with the 2019 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. She was honored for her work involving communities most affected by pollution, poor water quality and food insecurity in the scientific process.
Ramírez-Andreotta leads Project Harvest, a citizen science project that engages community health workers and more than 150 families living near sources of pollution in monitoring harvested rainwater, soil and plants. To make the project accessible to community members, all materials are available in both English and Spanish.
“She is truly a champion for public-engaged research,” said Mark Brusseau, professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona. “Dr. Ramírez-Andreotta embodies public engagement as intentional, meaningful interactions built on mutual trust and learning.”
Exequiel Ezcurra received the 2020 Award for Science Diplomacy from AAAS for his leadership in bringing together research, education, outreach and policy in service of environmental protection, particularly at the United States-Mexico border.
“I cannot exaggerate the influential role he has played in terms of tangible achievements in the conservation of nature,” said Rodolfo Dirzo, professor of environmental sciences at Stanford University, in his nomination letter.
Among Ezcurra’s accomplishments are helping to create the first-ever agreement among Mexico, Canada and the United States to collaborate on wildlife and ecosystem conservation and management. The Canada/Mexico/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management has flourished since its creation in 1995.
Computational mathematician Richard Tapia received the 2016 AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award – now the AAAS Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science – for his “remarkable career blending world-class scholarship, admirable mentoring and profound contributions to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and public engagement,” according to the award committee.
A Rice University faculty member since 1970, Tapia “has inspired and encouraged women, minorities and youth from low-income communities to dream big and use math and science to achieve those dreams while also providing a model for academic mathematicians to engage with the public,” said AAAS’ Shirley Malcom.
Daniel Colón-Ramos, now the McConnell Duberg Professor of Neuroscience and Cell Biology at Yale University School of Medicine, received the Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science from AAAS in 2011.
Beyond his research career, Colón-Ramos was recognized for his commitment to increasing public engagement with science, particularly among underrepresented minority populations; his efforts to raise awareness about the importance of scientific research; and his contributions to the education and training of young scientists.
In 2006, while a postdoc at Stanford, Colón-Ramos co-founded Ciencia Puerto Rico. The non-profit provides a “virtual collaborative space”—in the form of its website, CienciaPR.org—to bring together geographically dispersed members of the Puerto Rican scientific community (including its more than 5,400 members). It also builds on the collective knowledge of this community to engage the public with science, promote scientific education, and foster the development of science endeavors there.
In 2012, Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, was named an elected fellow of AAAS, joining the group of AAAS members that since 1874 have been honored for their lifetime efforts on behalf of the advancement of science and its applications.
Ochoa went on to lead NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. In 2018, she reflected to AAAS on the perspective provided from looking down at the Earth from space: “You think about the people and places that really mean a lot to you. You see lots of examples of human civilization, and also areas where you can see the effects that humans have had on the planet, whether it's smog over cities or deforestation or other things like that. You really see that with your own eyes in a way that other people don't get to.”
[Associated image: Dorsey Kaufmann/University of Arizona]