Spotlight Story

29 November 2023

Valery Serrano: Empowering Communities Through Collaborative Leadership

Category: Spotlight Story

Valery Serrano’s journey from a biology undergraduate to a Master of Arts in Biology student at Miami University in Ohio reflects not only her academic capabilities but also her dedication to empowering underrepresented communities within the field of science, an interdisciplinary approach she was inspired to pursue to honor her upbringing.

Her career journey began with an internship at the Gulf Breeze Zoo, sparking her interest in animal care and captive conservation. Subsequent experiences at the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary and with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance broadened her scope, exposing her to diverse conservation initiatives.

During her academic pursuits, Valery kept a commitment to fostering inclusivity. Her involvement with Student Support Services at her university underscored her dedication to ensuring quality data for governmental auditing while engaging with a diverse student population.

“I focus on students of color and the relationship with science and how we can evaluate that relationship. Specifically, the research that I do with students of color, and the way they do research. Seeing the opportunities that Latino communities have, and how that impacts our relationship with forests or public lands in general. My community shaped me.”

Valery got involved with Hispanic Access Foundation through the MANO Project, an opportunity she completed twice at two different sites, and that significantly shaped her trajectory.

“My first internship was an eight-month internship out of Bayfield, Colorado, doing special uses. I completed that in February of this year, and since I had a direct hire authority already for my first MANO Project internship, I was just able to go into the position that I was working in for my second internship.”

Valery's reflections on being a minority within her college, juxtaposed with her upbringing in a predominantly Latino community, shed light on the disparity in opportunities that often exist for communities of color within conservation. She implemented that worldview throughout the projects she undertook while in her internships. One of the ways Valery implements this passion as she delves into her current position, is focusing on enhancing the representation of diverse demographics in conservation volunteering efforts.

One of Valery’s proudest achievements during her second internship with the MANO Project was her contribution as a co-author for a project developed by the previous Resource Assistant at the San Juan National Forest in the Rocky Mountain region. Through an external partnership, her colleague and Valery worked on a cultural framework and series of trainings aimed at educating agency people about increasing indigenous collaboration and engagement.

“When I came in as a research assistant, that's something that I worked on heavily. I organized the design of the training, getting meetings set, and everything signed so it could be pushed forward to be published. Hopefully this week, we’ll be able to publish it just in time for National Native American Heritage Month.”

Her experience with the MANO Program fostered mentorship skills that she is now able to apply in her career, serving as a mentor for other college students paving their way into conservation careers.

“Without my mentors and their support, I wouldn't be where I am today. You must advocate for yourself, which I could proudly say that I did, but also without their support, it wouldn't be possible. I think I found this program very beneficial. I just want other people to realize that there are programs like this that exist for them to have opportunities. I was able to strengthen my mentorship and leadership skills throughout this experience.”

Valery's persistence and proactive approach in seeking mentorship and refining her skill set proved pivotal for her career advancement, leading her to secure a permanent position at the San Juan National Forest with the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail Partnership.

“Leadership in conservation I think is realizing that there's room for growth and that there’s always room for you to learn more. The leader that you were a month ago, the leader that you were a week ago is not the same leader that you are today. Being open to learning more and taking in different aspects of other people in a world that's always changing, is crucial.”


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Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society.

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