A Boricua Scientist Educator: From Carolina, Puerto Rico to North Carolina

Oct. 8, 2020

While you may only see people through one lens, often people carry multiple identities that shape who they are. Dr. Verónica A. Segarra is a Hispanic/Latina scientist, artist, professor and science outreach enthusiast.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, ASM interviewed Segarra, an Assistant Professor and Interim Chair of Biology at High Point University, a liberal arts college in North Carolina. In addition to her responsibilities as a professor, she enjoys science outreach activities that help undergraduate students connect with their community while putting their scientific training into practice. She also volunteers her time to support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives dedicated to STEM trainees.

Segarra celebrates her Hispanic culture and where she comes from every day, by bringing her authentic self into all that she does. Hispanic Heritage Month serves as an opportunity for her to add a level of intentionality to celebrating her heritage. The reminder of extraordinary accomplishments by members of the Hispanic community throughout the month inspires Segarra to bring out the best version of herself by connecting with her history. In Segarra’s interview with ASM, she discusses her background, reflects on her career and provides advice for future students pursuing STEM professions.

Please tell us about your upbringing.

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I spent most of my childhood in the municipality of Carolina and grew up in a family that includes many strong, independent women. While I am the first in my family to become a scientist, many of my family members have a love of learning and a talent for teaching. I brought those traits to my work as a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) in North Carolina. The fact that my life journey has taken me from Carolina, Puerto Rico to North Carolina makes me smile every time.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in STEM?

I had an inspiring science teacher in elementary school and since then, I wanted to be a scientist. I never doubted I would become one, even when the going got tough, as it often does when you are doing something worthwhile.

How has your Hispanic culture influenced your career?

While I think of myself professionally as a scientist and educator, my approach to these roles is heavily influenced by my other identities as a daughter, sister, wife, niece, cousin and friend. I am a composite of values and talents that I learned from other people and from a larger Latin American community who helped me develop into the person I am today.

What challenges have you experienced while pursuing your career?

Being a scientist, I have learned to turn challenges into opportunities for learning, just like I am able to turn an unexpected result at the bench into a new line of research. In this way, facing challenges presents you with opportunities to create alternative pathways to success. For example, there were times when my professional career interests evolved to be different from those of my scientific advisors. I needed to pioneer those interests by myself, going into areas that were so new to me that I had to blaze my own trail.

What traits and characteristics lend well to becoming a successful scientist?

In my opinion, all successful scientists have a few things in common, including a love of science and a desire to make discoveries. Our scientific communities are only strong if they are diverse and are inclusive of people with a variety of traits and characteristics. We need all types and kinds of people to be members of our scientific communities!

What advice would you give to young scientists pursuing a career in STEM?

My advice to young scientists is to do STEM in a way that is authentic to who you are as an individual. Sometimes, what this means is to do work that you absolutely love so that you can create a unique niche that speaks to your passions and values. I have had the privilege to mentor many undergraduate scientists and have watched each of them create a unique professional trajectory that was completely different from one another. I have been so inspired by them!

Author: Shaundra Branova

Shaundra Branova
Shaundra Branova is a program officer at ASM who develops and leads strategic projects, programs and initatives dedicated to elevating and embodying inclusive diversity.