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Hispanic Scientists Engage With the Public on Science

Leshner Leadership Institute fellow Maria Elena Bottazzi busts myths about vaccines. | Neil Orman/AAAS

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 the science communication efforts of several Hispanic scientists connected to AAAS.

Maria Elena Bottazzi

Maria Elena Bottazzi is the associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and a microbiologist who develops and tests vaccine prototypes for use against tropical and emerging diseases. To learn how to better tailor how she speaks to different audiences and to support her colleagues in their communication and engagement, Bottazzi took part in the 2017-18 infectious disease-focused cohort of the AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science.

Recently, Bottazzi participated in a AAAS video series about misinformation, in which she advised her fellow scientists about the importance of accurate, easy-to-understand information about vaccine safety and vaccine development processes.

“It’s crucial for us to rapidly increase the efficiency of how we disseminate and reach and translate” useful information about vaccines – and about all science knowledge, said Bottazzi.

Kevin Alicea-Torres

Each summer, the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship places undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate level scientists, engineers and mathematicians at media organizations to work as science journalists. In 2020, Kevin Alicea-Torres, a cancer immunology researcher and bilingual science communicator, wrote several dozen news articles for Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día.

“I really enjoyed my experience during this summer learning about how to become a science journalist and also how to make science more inclusive and accessible to Hispanic communities throughout the summer.”

Mónica Feliú-Mójer

Trained as a neurobiologist, AAAS member Mónica Feliú-Mójer is now an outreach scientist working with nonprofits, where she uses her scientific education and her cultural background to inform her work.

In a 2019 AAAS Member Spotlight, Feliú-Mójer reflected on her work that has helped to amplify the work of her fellow Puerto Rican scientists – an avenue she did not know was open to her during her childhood.

“I didn’t know research was something that was being done in Puerto Rico. All the science I saw, on books and TV, it was coming from somewhere else not in Puerto Rico,” said Feliú-Mójer.

Added Feliú-Mójer, “Because of my own experiences and so many others, I know so many people who are doing great work which is connected with their personal experiences and their backgrounds. They are succeeding and making contributions because of their background, not despite it.”

Luis Martinez

As a member of the AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science 2017-18 cohort, oral biologist Luis Martinez had the opportunity to connect with fellow experts in related fields and engage in different types of public engagement, such as writing op-eds.

At the end of his fellowship, he reflected on how he plans to continue this emphasis on public engagement. Martinez aims to encourage all members of his lab to participate in some form of public engagement – ranging from school visits to social media. Building engagement into his graduate students’ experience builds their own skills and makes his own public engagement efforts more sustainable, he said.

[Associated image: courtesy of Baylor College of Medicine]