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CALS Student Cultivates Connections Through Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15 each year to recognize Hispanic Americans. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is recognizing Hispanic students and their stories and experiences.

For Saddie Vela, a doctoral student in plant molecular and cellular biology, Hispanic Heritage Month is important because it pays homage to the culture and contributions of Latin Americans in the United States.

Vela has always had a strong relationship with plants and the land. And now, she explores her interests through her research which focuses on breeding plants in a manner that promotes a sustainable future.

“My culture validates the connection I have always felt,” Vela said. “Specifically, through traditional foods, medicines and growing food.”

Vela’s path to obtaining a graduate degree has not been an easy one. She completed her undergraduate degree at Oregon State University where she studied Botany.

“I experienced several obstacles during my undergraduate career,” Vela said. “Prior to applying, I had no college access resources and experienced traumatic family hardships.”

Vela realized the value of her education and overcame the challenges in order to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Florida. She plans to graduate in 2023.

Through the University of Florida Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANNRS), a student organization promoting academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences, Vela found a second family of supportive students with similar experiences. MANRRS welcomed Vela and amplified her voice as a minority student in agriculture.

“Finding this community has solidified my purpose in this field,” Vela said.

Vela serves as the MANNRS community service committee chair and, on behalf of MANNRS, is a member of the UF/IFAS Diversity and Inclusion committee. Through these roles, she organizes community service events, virtual presentations and creates alliances with other organizations.

Throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, Vela feels it is important to honor her ancestors and learn more about her family roots.

Vela said, “it’s important to take time and celebrate your culture and not allow it to be forgotten.”

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