Featured Geek: Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer. She's Geeky About Science and Building Communities.

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This week’s Featured Geek is passionate about making science and scientists accessible to underserved communities, particularly Latinos. She helps run Ciencia Puerto Rico, an online community, that uses social networking to engage scientists in science communication and education.

This Puerto Rican powerhouse is on a mission to bring STEM information to the forefront. Join her? Read on how you can become involved.

What is your full name and tell us about where you are from.

Monica-Feliu-Mojer-LatinaGeeksMy name is Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer and I am from Puerto Rico (¡boricua de pura cepa!).

Boston is my (second) home. I moved to Massachusetts after I graduated college and lived there for 9 years. I consider myself an adoptive Bostonian and I LOVE the Boston Red Sox. I currently live Seattle, WA.

Tell us about your Latina background and your family. What does your family think about your geeky passions?

I was born and raised in a rural barrio called Maricao, in Vega Alta, a small town in the northern coast of the island of Puerto Rico (the country is an archipelago).

Growing up surrounded by nature, I was interested in science from an early age. My favorite past time was collecting rocks around my house and my family always fueled that curiosity. Although there were no scientists in the family or even my immediate community, they were always supportive of my interests in learning, exploring, and building things. Their support was instrumental in motivating me to pursue and persist in a career in science.

Tell us about your geeky passion. What are your interested in and why?

My passion is making science and scientists accessible to underserved communities, particularly Latinos.

The organization I help run (as a volunteer), Ciencia Puerto Rico (@CienciaPR on Twitter), uses social networking to engage scientists in science communication and education. CienciaPR gives scientists a platform to connect with their community of origin by writing newspaper articles and recording podcasts; by going to schools and working with teachers and students; and by helping foster the next generations of scientists through mentoring and resource sharing. As one of the largest communities of Latino scientists in the world, we provide visibility to diverse scientific role models, and help demystify who does science and where.

Latinos are not only underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) but we lack access to STEM information. That puts us at a disadvantage when making decisions that relate to our environment, our health, politics and social issues, to mention a few things. In an increasingly scientific and technological society, being scientifically-literate is not a luxury is a necessity. Scientists should play a role in making science relevant and accessible to our communities and our youth. I know that we can have a positive impact and I am very passionate about making that happen.

Are you bilingual? If so, how does it help you in your career?

Yes, I speak both Spanish and English. Being bilingual is an incredible advantage, particularly as it relates to my work as a science communicator. There is a serious lack of Spanish-language science content, so being fully bilingual gives me the advantage of writing, speaking and communicating science en español to help address that need.

Being bilingual also helps me give members of my community—who are more comfortable speaking Spanish—access to valuable science, technology and health-related knowledge that they would otherwise not get. Being bilingual also helps me make research that particularly pertains to the Latino community accessible to them.

For example, I recently wrote a bilingual article about the analysis being done by researchers at the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Washington (where I am the Manager of Outreach) to understand the genetic risks factors for diseases like asthma and diabetes in Latinos. This analysis is part of the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) the most comprehensive study of our health to date and a landmark for the Latino community in the U.S. I am proud to be part of the effort of making this information available and accessible for Latinos, in English and Spanish.

Tell us about the gadgets you have in your purse right now. What top three gadgets do you need to have in your purse to help with your day-to-day tasks?

My MacBook Air, iPhone and an external hard drive. I am constantly on the go and my work requires me to stay connected. My most important work tool is my email, so I must be able to access it from multiple devices, on-demand. Tweeting is also part of my work, so having pretty regular access during the day is important.

The external hard-drive … I recently had my laptop die on me (the horror!), so I make sure to carry that drive with me and to back-up my computer regularly.

What is your website and/or blog? What does it focus on?

My website is Ciencia Puerto Rico.

This website is Ciencia Puerto Rico’s main initiative and it is the social networking platform were our community gathers, shares, thrives and works together to create initiatives to communicate science, promote scientific education and foster the next generations of Puerto Rican and Latino scientists.

Anybody can join CienciaPR.org; you don’t have to be a scientist or Puerto Rican. You just need to have an interest in science and Puerto Rico and you define what that means! Being a member is free and it gives you access to an incredible amount of professional development resources, news, potential mentors and collaborators, internships and jobs.

Where can we find you online? Please share your social links with us!

I believe that if we care about the future of science, scientists need to be visible. So, I do my best to be visible online. 🙂

I am a big fan of Twitter. It is my go to place for news, having interesting conversations, interacting with other scientists, and connecting with students, colleagues and collaborators. You can follow me @moefeliu.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my work you can go to my website: www.monicafeliu.com.

You can also hear me speak about my passion for science and outreach (in Spanish) in this interview with Univisión.

What else would you like to share with us?

I would love to share CienciaPR’s new initiative focused on Puerto Rican and Hispanic/Latina women in STEM called Borinqueña. In this space a group of bloggers share resources, experiences, role model profiles and other valuable information from a Latina perspective. There you will find topics that go from research and mentoring, to some the challenges faced by women of color in science, to the amazing stories of budding and established female scientists.

Borinqueña is a source of encouragement and inspiration for me and I hope it is for you as well! http://www.cienciapr.org/en/blogs/borinquena