The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Excellence in STEM, with Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas, instructional faculty in Computer Science at MiraCosta Community College in Oceanside, California.
Professor Chapetón-Lamas shares how connecting with Latinx colleagues outside of STEM helped him become a better computer scientist, faculty, and person.
Keep reading to learn how Professor Chapetón-Lamas has overcome professional challenges because of the community he built around himself.
Why Did You Choose Your Current Technical Field?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas I chose Computer Science because it covered all the areas that were important to me for a career: flexibility for work/life balance, a real (and hopefully more than a) living wage, cognitive challenge, problem-solving, and impacting my community/the world.
What does a typical day or week look like for you as a tenured professor?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas As a full-time tenured professor, I get to structure my week based on my tasks and balance. Besides my scheduled classes (that since COVID-19 has shifted to more online courses) and recurring meetings, such as department or committee meetings, I set aside time weekly for grading, class activity prep, and student meetings.
The flexibility means I have to be disciplined and organized enough to keep up with students’ needs and institutional duties, which can be difficult during heavier parts of the semester and life. It’s worth it when a class discussion or student meeting is especially heavy, which often happens in our small class sizes and the community I build with students, so I can move things around to make room for supporting students and taking care of myself.
What’s been your greatest professional challenge as a member of the Latino community, and how did you overcome it?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas The higher I rose in academia (degrees and positions), the fewer of us I saw and the more disconnected from my community I felt. Every institution I’ve attended has challenged me in finding my people, they haven’t always been in STEM, but when they are, it’s always a breath of fresh air.
However, finding Latinx colleagues and creating friendships outside of STEM has made me a better computer scientist, faculty, and person, opening my mind to new ways of thinking that STEM did not cultivate, validate, or value. I’ve overcome a lot of professional challenges because of that community I’ve built at work, as well as support from my family and loved ones.
What is one piece of advice you can give Latino students and/or early career professionals?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas Those positions and accolades you see and want to pursue are within reach. People with twice as much privilege and half as much ambition/skills get them, don’t sell yourself as short as that impostor syndrome voice claims. You’ll use that to drive you to get there, but don’t underestimate the value of taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially to keep going in the long run. That’ll make the difference between a career and a job.
What would you consider are Hispanic traits or behaviors instilled by your family that have made you successful?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas An incredible work ethic, moral compass, and strong set of values. When I left for college, my mother reminded me that one deals with the consequences of their own actions. The reality I’ve seen is that it isn’t always true, plenty of privileged people get away without those consequences but it’s led me to live a life where I am aligned more with my values.
What are things that you or your university/company do to attract Hispanic students/applicants? What do you recommend they do more of?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas Institutions I’ve attended and worked at had programs specifically aimed at supporting Latinx students that I am a product of, back then, and support now. At UC Irvine it was the CAMP program supporting Black, Indigenous, NHPI and Latinx students in STEM. At MiraCosta College, programs like PUENTE that support students to transfer to universities, like the UCs, make a huge impact on students’ trajectories. Unfortunately, a lot of these students are underfunded and/or not institutionalized.
I would recommend they truly commit, through their own institutional funds, budgets, and staffing, to support these programs that specifically recruit and retain Latinx students. If you truly believe in your values and mission around equity, this should be a no-brainer. That also includes Pride/LGBTQIA+ centers, undocumented resource centers, black student unions, etc. as Latinx students identities intersect with all of those support programs as well.
What would you like to tell people about your country of origin?
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas The Latinx diaspora is massive and broad, even when drilling down to specific countries there is vast diversity. You should learn the nuances of specific countries’ cultures while being empathetic with people in general. Most of all, understand that things like white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, etc. manifest in similar and unique ways in our countries of origin. The U.S. has its own version as well. It doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else, but it does contribute to your point of view that informs the problem-solving process. Make sure that’s factored in, valued, and empowered.
About Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas:
Nery Antonio Chapetón-Lamas proudly identifies as a Chicano, first generation college student, and child of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants: Martha Lamas and Nery Chapetón. He has been a full-time tenured instructional faculty in Computer Science at MiraCosta Community College in Oceanside, CA for the past 8 years, serving as department chair for two of them. He is currently exploring culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP) in CS in hopes of creating the classroom and program that he, and many of his BIPOC friends, deserved in higher ed. He received his B.S in Computer Science & Engineering from UC Irvine and Master of CS at University of Iowa. In addition to his teaching activities, he is an advisor for the Empowering Chicanx and Latinx in Exploring STEM (EChALE STEM) and Women in CS clubs. His CS interests include embedded systems, computer security, and mobile app development. He spends his breaks with family, gardening, baking, working on Raspberry Pi/Arduino projects, and reading comic books.