In recent years, environmental challenges, like climate change, have become a critical focus point of scientists worldwide. Researchers work tirelessly to ask and examine questions that deal with the very future of our world. Taking a closer look, we find that some of the voices answering those questions have a particular essence. Hispanic scientists have taken up the challenge to push forward environmental research to address the issues that ultimately threaten the delicate balance and even the survival of our planet’s ecosystems. Here we shine a light into the work, motivations and the achievements of some of these champions, who call the University of Washington’s College of the Environment home. By uplifting their names, hometowns and stories we honor not only their culture, but their contributions to environmental science as well.

Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño (Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico)

Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño in he rlab
Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño

Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño is an assistant professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. Her research studies the ecophysiology and reproductive biology of marine organisms, and the impact of climate change on coral reefs. Padilla-Gamiño’s optimistic nature, work ethic and passion for her science not only have helped her overcome obstacles along the way but have also resulted in various awards and recognitions over the years.

“There are always highs and lows, take your time when you’re in a low,” she says. “If you love your work, with sacrifice and organization, the highs will come.”

scientist measuring circumferance of a tree
Ernesto Alvarado Celestin

Ernesto Alvarado Celestin (Boquillas de las Perlas, Mexico)

Ernesto Alvarado Celestin is an associate professor of wildland fire sciences in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. He teaches and researches a wide variety of topics including forest fires, climate change and tropical forestry. Coming from humble beginnings, Alvarado has overcome many challenges along the road to being a professor, becoming a strong supporter of indigenous communities and native knowledge.

“You need to be able to see potential in people,” says Alvarado. He underscores the importance of good mentorship and the impact it has on students, while also encouraging them to “dream, work hard and take advantage of opportunities.”

Julieta Martinelli measigin oysters in the field
Julieta Martinelli

Julieta Martinelli (Mendoza, Argentina)

Julieta Martinelli is a postdoctoral researcher from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences who grew fascinated by fossilized mollusks she found growing up. Following her lifelong passion for seashells, Martinelli has submerged herself in the study of the connection between humans and marine environments. Martinelli received her PhD from the Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, she went on to follow postdoctoral studies in Chile and subsequently at UW. Her current research focuses on invasive species plaguing mollusks in the Pacific Northwest. For Martinelli, coming to the US was a very exciting experience, although parting with good friends proved to be a challenge initially.

“Always be open to new possibilities, keep an open mind and be willing to let go,” says Martinelli. “Eventually things start falling into place.”

Carrol Gomez on a ferry in Puget Sound
Carrol Gomez

Carrol Gomez (Barranquilla, Colombia)

Carrol Gomez is a Fulbright Fellow and graduate student from the Environmental and Forest Sciences with an industrial engineering background. She is passionate about conservation, territorial planning and the socio-economic development of rural and indigenous communities in the tropics.

“I want to understand the relationships between nature and people within a framework in which we elevate culture and social perceptions for a better decision making about the environment,” says Gomez, describing her research interests. She mentions the unwavering support of her advisor, professor Kristiina Vogt, her friends and family as a key factor in her acclimatization to the US. As advice to future students, Gomez says “challenge yourself to be curious and think more holistically.”

Bryan Ortiz in his lab
Bryan A. Briones Ortiz

Bryan A. Briones Ortiz (Guayaquil, Ecuador)

Bryan A. Briones Ortiz joined UW in 2013, double majoring in ecology, evolution and conservation biology and Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, with a minor in marine biology. Briones’ passion for research and biology led him to participate in a wide array of projects ranging from the reaction of insects to climate change to the thermal sensitivities of lizards to the genetics of eelgrass populations. His current work studying seagrass seeks to improve coastal management in Washington state.

Despite having contended briefly with the language barrier at first, Briones’ experience in the US has only grown his passion for giving back to his community. Engaged with the Science Clubs International, a STEM outreach organization, Briones hopes to send an uplifting message to young Hispanic students in underprivileged communities, “we did this, you can too.”

Sharing a deep sense of appreciation for family, hard work and perseverance, these scientists have found their calling in the pursuit and advancement of the environmental sciences. Their struggles, passions and achievements serve as inspiration for future Hispanic students from humble backgrounds, to look upward with hope knowing there is a place for them in STEM and at the University of Washington.