Raúl Cuero was recently chosen as Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry 2013 National Hispanic Scientist of the Year. Mr. Cuero is an inventor and president/research director of the International Park of Creativity in Bogota, Colombia.
For the past 11 years, MOSI, a nonprofit and educational resource center, has awarded Hispanic science and engineering professionals to serve as role models and mentors for Tampa Bay's Hispanic youth. Past honorees include a former U.S. surgeon general and a Nobel laureate of chemistry. The award was prompted in 2000 when statistics showed a high drop-out rate for Hispanic students, according to a MOSI spokesperson.
Mr. Cuero is renowned for his work in the field of biotechnology, and he was a research scientist and professor at Texas A&M University in 2008.
"I practice science for the pleasure of creating new knowledge and paradigms, therefore, I approach science from the integrated perspective," Mr.Cuero told HispanicBusiness.com. "I integrate all sciences. Although I apply all these integrated approach to all aspects such as synthetic biology that with the construction of new genes and also within the context of biogenesis – origin of life."
As a NASA scientific research collaborator in astrobiology and biogenesis, he developed a natural molecule to protect the skin from the effects of UV radiation that lead to skin cancer, according to a press release. This technology will protect astronauts from the effects of UV rays.
Mr. Cuero was born in Buenaventura, Colombia. During the 1950s, about 30 percent of children in his hometown died from diseases such as parasites, malaria, tuberculosis and viral diseases before reaching the age of 10. This served as a catalyst for his career.
At IPOC, where he is the founder, president, and research director, the objectives are to create young inventors under the mentorship of inventors; to create and/or invent new technologies and products for global markets; implement scientific research and developments for diverse industries and/or other institutions seeking new technologies and products for a competitive global market. It also serves as a "think tank" center for economic, social, scientific and technological development, according to a press release.
In 1986, Mr. Cuero was one of the first scientists to go to China and South Africa to lecture on biotechnology. He has been published in more than 110 scientific journals in the fields of biology, microbiology, molecular biology and synthetic biology.
HispanicBusiness.com spoke to Mr. Cuero, about Hispanics in science, or a lack thereof.
HispanicBusiness.com: It's not a big secret that Hispanics don't go on to study science-related fields in higher education -- how does this make you feel?
Raúl Cuero: It is a reality, but I don't have to feel too bad, as long as we are in the process of evolving and developing. We shouldn't be looking at a particular ethnic group from one group or one event. We should look throughout history. And the Hispanic population has made great contributions to the world in many different ways. It just happened that after the industrial revolution, here in this part of the world the new Hispanic population, because of economic differences we aren't able to come and strike immediately in a system like America. I can see now after 45 years of living in America and they are making progress and I'm quite sure that they indeed are going to make a big difference.
If you look at for instance at the Hispanics back in the aboriginal countries, those are people of greatest development, greatest contribution, greatest schools; they are very good at math; they are very good at science. For instance, when you come to myself, I was a good student but I did better in high school and then when I came to the country, I didn't see any difficulties because of the background I had already.
But when they brought me to America because of the invention I had created -- which I didn't expect to come -- because I didn't know anything about America. I only knew about Europe because I used to read a lot of literature so I knew about all the famous writers like through Alexander Dumas, I learned about France; I learned about Germany from Goethe; and all those guys. So I was brought here as a good student and an inventor and they gave me all these facilities to work with. So I started from the top here. Not from the bottom. That's a big difference. Given that I was a very poor person back home, but I had a lot of information and knowledge and also I have academic opportunity from the beginning, and I didn't come here with the perspective to have; I came here with the perspective to become -- to be. That's what the younger Hispanic generation has to learn. They have to be in order to make it. My concept was to become -- to be -- not to have. They should focus on becoming knowledgeable and the "having" will come later.
HB.com: Are you working with any organizations to break this pattern? Or do you support organizations trying to encourage Hispanics to go after science (and related) careers?
RC: Yes. That's what I do at the Park of Creativity. Here with me I have Diana, who is a student at the Park of Creativity. She is a third-year medical student. She started with me when she was 15 and I have encouraged her to be an inventor -- to use the good talent and good education and good desires and good hobbies and good, good, good, good. To be functional at an early age, so I expect her, within three years of being at the Park, to be an inventor as I was an inventor at age 16. Diana is an inventor. She has had an incredible, multi-million dollar invention.
It is an Alzheimer's and diabetic DNA sensor. I encourage them to invent, patent and create companies and to create their own job. They don't go out seeking for a job. They create their own -- that is fundamental. That's what happened to me. I knew I wasn't going to get a job in my time at all, so I had to create something, and I want to encourage the Hispanic population here to get into beyond just being good, because good is not enough. In order to go beyond good, you have to create.
HB.com: How does it feel to receive this award?
RC: It is great honor to receive such an award, but the main meaning for me is that science and technology is the key to everything. A scientific award like this one is expressing the fabric of American culture based on science and technology. We live in a capitalist society, and capitalism is based on science and technology. A student must realize that science and technology is the driving force for living in this country -- to have progress, to sustain the economy of the country, to sustain the good life within the country. They have to get into it and they realize that a science award like this is more important than an Oscar for a movie.
HB.com: Can you share some advice for budding scientists?
RC: I have so much advice, but I will concentrate on the ones that I think are really imperative. One is young people in general should think about to be and not to have. You have to first become what you want to be and the "have" will come later. Second, the process is more important and that's where the real joy is, than the expectations they put in their head. Once you lead the process, anything is possible after that. Third, do not compare yourself to anyone else while you are doing your process -- you compare after. But while you are doing your thing, make sure you interact with everybody so you become more universal. Also, make sure you understand that to be useful is the objective we want to have -- not just to be important.
HB.com: Share some thoughts about MOSI and what this organization is doing for people of all ages.
RC: MOSI is a very important piece for developing the nation -- not just in Tampa, because today we are so competitive and knowledge is to satisfy the need for society to be individualized. A good education is not enough. This conventional education system needs a supporting system. So institutions like MOSI are very good to be a complementary system to our conventional education system. MOSI can help them with all the elements that are so important to the sustainability of the society. It is very important. Conventional is not enough.
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