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A Scholar Who is ‘Extending the Hand as He Climbs’


Alonso Delgado1
When Alonso Delgado was growing up, he could never have imagined he would one day be studying venom in sea anemones, simply because he never knew it was something that he could do. After studying aircraft mechanics, then working at the Los Angeles Zoo, he discovered the field of evolutionary marine biology while attending Portland State University (PSU).

Delgado says that going from a diverse community in southern California to Portland, Oregon, which is majority white, was a “weird experience.”

“It was very isolating, a culture shock for sure,” says Delgado.

But PSU’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) cultural groups helped him become acquainted with research, and, in 2018, he received an internship with the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). That’s how he first connected with The Ohio State University (OSU), where he first learned about evolutionary thinking, and decided to attend for his Ph.D.

“Ohio State was the place I thought I would get my best mentorship,” says Delgado, which is something that those in the field of biology, evolution, and ecology may have difficulty with. “Mentoring is not a stronghold of a lot of primary investigators, and the lack of mentoring puts a lot of pressure on people who are already pressured. You see pressure across the board, regardless of race or gender. Sometimes that factor creates a hostile work environment.”

Knowing the feeling of loneliness, Delgado has worked hard to create a sense of community for research scientists of color, particularly Latinx researchers. At PSU, he ran a mentoring program and worked with 15 different mentees at any given time, he says. That led to him creating the first diversity committee within the Society of Systemic Biologists, which worked to update outdated policies and language. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he created an organization called Latinx in Marine Science, which connected Latinx researchers in the field during one of the most isolating periods of modern history. He continues to work with 2030 STEM, a thinktank that aims to diversify the STEM fields.

Dr. Meg Daly, a professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at OSU and Delgado’s mentor, first met Delgado during his REU participation.

“He was a wonderful, most engaged, hardworking student, which is saying a lot because they were all phenomenal,” says Daly. “His brain is just overflowing with ideas. He gets started on something, and he has the ability to finish things off. That’s not always the same person — he’s good at both.”

Daly says she was not only impressed by Delgado’s scholarship, but his deliberate and intentional work to de-silo the field, embracing diversity in what are often “primarily white spaces.”

“It’s not a problem he created. The marginalization of Latinx scholars is not his fault. He’s really engaged with a positive solution and making opportunities for other people,” says Daly. “That’s part of his practice in his discipline, reaching other people, finding ways to support them. He’s very interested in making things more transparent.”

As a first-generation college student himself, Delgado understands what it’s like to navigate entirely new experiences. Daly says he has taken on the responsibility of mentorship with excitement.

“He is extending the hand as he climbs,” says Daly.

With his intellect and personal determination, Daly says Delgado can go anywhere he wants. Delgado is still fascinated by the questions and answers discovered through marine research, and he says he hopes to one day head a research group, either in the academy or outside. Wherever his future takes him, he will continue to improve the retention of diverse candidates as they break into the field.

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