SACNAS celebrates August Mentor of the Month: Dr. Jorge Moreno Soto.
Dr. Moreno is a theoretical astrophysicist, professor, mentor and SACNAS Lifetime member who has been involved with the community since 2015. He was awarded SACNAS Outstanding Research and Professional Mentor in 2018.
“This award was announced during a very difficult time in my life,” shared Dr. Moreno, who described stress and anxiety, caused by a toxic work-environment at a previous institution and bullying by two prominent diversity leaders. “Thankfully I walked away and I obtained the help I needed: medication and therapy, as well as the support from my spouse, a couple of very close friends, plus my new department and institution. This award is for my students…”
Now Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Pomona College, Professor Moreno’s studies and teaches galaxy evolution. Specifically, he uses high-performance supercomputing to simulate galaxy encounters, and investigates the role of merging in shaping the structure of the interstellar medium in galaxies.
With his NSF grant, Dr. Moreno also funded and supervised an unusually large number of Black and Latinx undergraduate students, many of whom are currently at prestigious graduate programs, have won SACNAS prizes, AAS Chambliss Awards, and are holders of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, and Ford Fellowships.
“Professor Moreno’s dedication to empowering underrepresented students extends beyond his tenure-track professor position at Pomona College,” wrote Monica Gallegos Garcia, Francisco Javier Mercado, and José Flores Velázquez in their nomination for Dr. Moreno as a SACNAS Outstanding Mentor. “He continuously makes an effort to learn about the social injustices he and his students face in STEM, and has succeeded in equipping us with the knowledge needed to be socially conscious in order to persevere and succeed in a field where we sometimes feel we do not belong.”
“Profe Moreno”, as he is known by his beloved students, is a non-binary de-Indigenized “Latinx” person with roots in southern Texas, northern Chihuahua, and Zacatecas, in central Mexico. “When I was 13, I used to sneak out to dance norteñas at a nearby Swap Meet,” said Dr. Moreno playfully, who was born and raised in a low-income family in the Global South. “But I was an excellent student otherwise!”
“His personal experience earning a PhD as a person of color in the US makes him a unique and invaluable mentor,” wrote Garcia, Mercado and Velázquez. “He has suffered through many of the same struggles his students face today and as a result can understand their experiences, unlike many others. He makes an effort in every space he can to foster healthy environments for all students of colors.”
Dr. Moreno agreed that he has made it his life’s mission to incorporate lessons learned from activism in everything he does. After serving the American Astronomical Society as Chair of the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy, Dr. Moreno said he is now focused on decolonizing his classroom, his research group, and the field of astronomy — an effort he does not take lightly.
For example, he challenges the use of violent language in galaxy evolution by elevating Kichwa cosmovisions (with Profesora Jessie Vallejo, Ethnomusicologist); and by implementing Zapatista principle to create an anti-hierarchical classroom (with Doctora Nicole Cabrera Salazar, CEO of Movement Consulting).
“Marginalized junior faculty often fall prey to institutions seeking to exploit our labor, and toxic people who use us to obtain funding, conceal their insecurities, and avoid accountability,” explained Dr. Moreno. “In addition to guiding my students so they can become the best researchers they can be, it is my responsibility to teach them everything I know so they can navigate spaces that were designed to exclude us, and connect them with other mentors who will do the work, hold themselves accountable, and truly be in their corner.”
In addition to supporting students to navigate advanced degrees in STEM, Dr. Moreno’s own research has resulted in several high-impact research articles, approximately 1-million dollars in extramural research funding, over 100 invited colloquia worldwide, and the 2019 Joseph Morgan Physics Prize Lectureship. Dr. Moreno is also a visiting scholar at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an award-winning teacher.
“Mentoring the next generation has been instrumental to survive centuries of colonization and imperialism,” said Dr. Moreno. “By teaching young people what our ancestors taught us, they can help us refine our knowledge and adapt it to their current needs. Society is lucky to have access to the knowledge created by my students and other Black and brown folks, womxn, queer folks, disabled folks — folks who have been marginalized and oppressed for just too long. I am honored to mentor marginalized students because I have an obligation to my ancestors to do this, so they can create, imagine, write code, solve equations, make plots, run experiments, design instruments, and dream — which is their birthright, one that has been denied to us for most of recent history.”
In recognition of his incredible body of work in mentorship, SACNAS proudly recognizes Dr. Moreno Soto as August Mentor of the Month and SACNAS Outstanding Research and Professional Mentor.
Learn more about Dr. Moreno:
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SACNAS Mentors of the Month are featured as part of the SACNAS Distinguished Awards program, which awards one Distinguished Scientist and one Distinguished Mentor each year. Outstanding Mentors are selected from among the top nominees for SACNAS Distinguished Mentor, and receive digital and multimedia recognition in the subsequent year.