National Hispanic Heritage Month with Allan Argelagos

Allan Argelagos

The UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with highlights of students and faculty of Hispanic and Latin heritage.  

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Originally started as a heritage celebration week in 1968, the observation was expanded to a full month in 1988. The celebration starts mid-month because Sept. 15 marks the independence anniversary of five countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. It is followed by Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16 and Chile’s on Sept. 18.  

Allan Argelagos, a fourth-year PhD student in the Pharmacological Sciences program, is a first-generation college student with a mother and father who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala and Mexico.

Argelagos received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UCI.

Q: Tell us where you grew up and a little about your family. Were your parents or any other family members in health care or the sciences? If not, what inspired your studies?

Although I grew up locally in Downey, Calif., I am humbled by my parents, who immigrated from different Latin countries, searching for better opportunities for their future family. I am very proud to be the first in my family to make it in the field of health sciences. I was inspired to study science on my sixth birthday. My mother decided to invite a scientist instead of a clown for entertainment at my birthday party. He transformed a green liquid into jiggly jello, and my awe from that moment led me to where I am today! My curiosity to understand the physical world and how life works scientifically has been one of my greatest passions ever since.

Q: How did your heritage or ethnicity influence your studies and research interests?

Since mental health disorders are statistically more likely to occur in low-income communities such as Latino ones, I have been inspired to study how mental disorders manifest themselves on the molecular level. My Hispanic experience has greatly influenced my decision to pursue research in this field to understand mental health better and better serve Latino communities.

Q: How did you become interested in pharmacology or pharmacy?

I became interested in pharmacological studies due to my family’s struggle through various mental health issues. My mother struggles with clinically diagnosed OCD, and both of my grandmothers have suffered through major depressive episodes. I struggle with a mood disorder, and it has always been my goal to understand these specific types of mental disorders on a molecular and genetic level. I hope to bring light to new treatments that will help others manage these disorders to live happier and healthier lives. As I conduct research in this field, I am motivated to continue working in mental health to increase programs, funding, and awareness for the general public.

Q: What advice would you have for other young people today who are interested in either pharmacology or pharmacy?

For those interested in the pharmacological field, the best advice I can give would be to be ready for the fast-paced environment in research. I discovered this the hard way as I did not perform any undergraduate research before entering my PhD program. I had to adapt quickly; I came from an entirely different background in chemical engineering. I want to encourage others that it is within your reach to accomplish this as long as you remain passionate and willing to learn.

Q: Do you have any particular advice for Hispanic or Latino/Latinas?

If I had to give advice to a Hispanic student, I would try to encourage them to find a mentor with similar life struggles and career interests. This is something I wish I had known before entering the scientific field. There were many times when I would feel discouraged because my advisor could not empathize with my circumstances because of my Hispanic background. I genuinely believe I could have greatly benefited from having a mentor that better understood me.

Q: How can UCI and SPPS continue to develop our diversity, equity, and inclusion practices for Hispanic or Latino/Latina students?

The best way I see that UCI and the SPPS can continue to develop even more diversity, equity, and inclusion for the Hispanic community would be to continue to hire more personnel and faculty of Hispanic background. From personal experience, I have found that this truly makes a difference in the motivation of students of the Latino community. It’s encouraging to see those who have achieved what we strive for and understand that being a minority should not stop us from reaching our goals. Plus, it would allow students to connect more personally with our faculty. There will be a higher chance that these students will contact these faculty who can offer a more personalized experience and advice on how they can make it to the same position.

Q: What is your favorite Hispanic tradition, dish, or destination, and why?

The funny thing is that even though I am of Hispanic heritage, I have yet to visit any Latin American countries. When I can, the first location that I want to visit is the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. I want to visit for two reasons: to see my retired Spanish high school teacher, who inspired me to pursue a PhD, and to visit the ocean within this area. My Spanish teacher describes how breathtaking this region’s crystal-clear waters are, and it is something that I truly would like to see within my lifetime.  

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