Stories of Pride: Samuel Zapata-Valencia
In celebration of Pride Month, SPIE spoke with members of our community about their experiences as LGBTQ+ scientists in optics and photonics as well as within the greater STEM community.
Our first conversation was with Samuel Zapata-Valencia (he/him) whose master's in engineering dissertation consists of the study and development of digital holography microscopy techniques to improve image quality. Outside of the lab, he is a violist who loves Bach and the ballads. Zapata-Valencia is also the newly named recipient of the 2021 Teddi C. Laurin Scholarship, co-sponsored by SPIE and Photonics Media.
Is there an LGBTQ+ person in your life who has inspired you?
The first LGBTQ+ person that I met in my life was my English teacher in high school. He didn't introduce me to science, but he taught me that you have to be honest with yourself, kind with the others, and, no matter what you're going to dedicate your life to, do what makes you happy. And, of course, he taught me English.
How can allies actively support LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers?
In life, you can find people who will be very expressive with their sexual orientation and others who will be more reserved. Both will surely feel proud of who they are, and that is totally normal. Don't try to pigeonhole every LGBTQ+ people into the same mold because that is impossible: every person is a different world. On the other hand, for some people it is hard to come out even to closest friends. The best thing that you can do is be there for them and show your support to the LGTBQ+ community.
What is one piece of advice you can offer the LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers of the future?
Surround yourself with people who care about you. Science and engineering are quite stressful subjects. For those moments when things don't work out, it's essential to have people to support you. Also, take advantage of the visibility activities and events of LGBTQ+ people and women in science and engineering: knowing other people's stories, you can choose to better your path in life. Finally, be honest with yourself – life is too short and too beautiful to spend it trying to be someone other than yourself.
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