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Dr. Vernon Avila - Biologist
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“Not again, Clint Walker thought. Pain consumed him. His head felt like it was going to explode louder than the fireworks flashing over the Mall and lighting up the Washington Monument. One moment he felt euphoric—stronger and smarter than ever—but then the euphoria vanished, like smoke from a flame, and was replaced by stupor. Thoughts evaporated, feelings bounced around in his mind, memory fled. Who was he?”

Above is a paragraph from my first novel Smokescreen, which was published in 2000. Smokescreen is a story that traces the scientific life of a Latino, Eloy Córdova Santiago, from his small village at Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, where he learns the secrets of the spirits of the forest, to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., where he studies Alzheimer”s disease and Huntington’s.

As a professor of biology at San Diego State University (SDSU), I am engaged in biological research. There is an element of creativity in scientific research, such as designing experiments so as to get the most information out of a study. Being a creative person, I have found that there are many outlets for my creativity other than science. Writing novels also requires creativity. Not only do you have to worry about making an interesting and believable plot, but you also have to develop characters that aren’t “flat,” or stereotypical. Using information that my scientific research has taught me, I was able to include this information in the creation of the characters that make up my story. The information that I included helped the characters seem more real, and I realized that the creativity I use in my scientific career led to information that I was able to use in my writing career.

Scientists don’t have to be men and women in white coats that are only interested in getting things done in the laboratory. Scientists have many talents that can be applied to other aspects of life, such as writing books or creating programs to help minority students in the sciences. I am currently administering the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program at SDSU, which trains minority students to become biomedical researchers. I have also used my talents to branch out into other areas. I am the president and owner of Bookmark Publishers, and I also write textbooks designed to bring biological literacy to students while including profiles of scientists from all ethnic backgrounds.

As a professor of biology, I teach students about biology. There is an element of creativity in the teaching of science. When teaching students about the process of how science works, I feel it necessary to encourage creativity and curiosity because with them one can become a successful scientist, for the more curious you are about things, the more creative you will be in the investigation of these things. However, one method of teaching may reach one type of student, while at the same time do nothing for another type of student. Therefore, to stay focused on the goal of getting students interested in science, I need to be creative in the way that I present the material. By making the material interesting to as many students as possible, I hope to encourage students to pursue scientific careers so as to understand the way the world works.

Overall, I have dedicated my life to developing programs to encourage minority students to think of science as a career option. My goal is to provide opportunities for talented students to discover their interests and abilities. And I hope to be viewed as a role model that is not just a scientist, but as a person of many talents and occupations as well.

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