Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera, Biochemistry Professor, with his lab students

In the complexity of human life, we often juggle multiple identities shaped by our names, backgrounds, and experiences. These layers make us unique. Meet Dr. Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera, a Biochemistry Professor in the College of Science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of the University of Alabama System. He's among the few Hispanic faculty members at UAH and takes pride in helping others understand what it means to be Latino in the US.

"I have two names, Luis Rogelio. I also have two last names, Cruz-Vera. Everybody knows me as Roger, but people that aren't as familiar with me know me as Luis. However, I actually like my second name better than my first name because my mom and dad call me Rogelio (nickname Roger)," he says.

Cruz-Vera's journey into the world of science was inspired by his father's experience in a factory in Mexico. His father, a high school graduate working in a factory, aspired to obtain a fellowship. During this pursuit, he introduced young Cruz-Vera to books that would change his life. A microbiology book, in particular, captured his imagination, setting him on a path toward scientific discovery.

Cruz-Vera's academic journey led him to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Chemical Pharmacology, followed by Master's and Ph.D. degrees in Molecular Biology and Genetics in Mexico City. In 2003, he was invited to the University of Stanford in California. In the US, he met a prominent geneticist from the 1960s, whose mentorship would alter the course of his career. This transition to the US marked the beginning of both challenges and opportunities as Cruz-Vera and his wife embarked on a new chapter of life with limited resources.

The initial months in the US were challenging for Cruz-Vera and his wife. They navigated the unfamiliar terrain with small savings, relying on resourcefulness and determination to make ends meet. Cruz-Vera recalls the difficulty in communicating due to limited English proficiency but compliments his wife, who's better understanding of the language helped them adjust.

Following his term at Stanford, Cruz-Vera pursued positions in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Biology departments across the US. After several interviews, including one at UAH, he was selected for a position in the Biology Department. This twist of fate brought him to UAH in 2007.

At UAH, Cruz-Vera embarked on research in gene regulation in bacteria. His work involves unraveling the intricate mechanisms governing how genes in bacteria are expressed, ultimately affecting the production of proteins. Cruz-Vera's analogy compares this process to a factory where products move through different stages, sometimes getting delayed by their own output—a phenomenon that has far-reaching implications for the lives of bacteria. His research explores how this "factory" can get jammed and its impact on bacterial survival, unveiling a fundamental biological process.

Cruz-Vera's passion for science extends beyond his research. He takes pride in mentoring students, a role he values deeply. In his lab, he has guided six Ph.D. students in the Biotechnology program, six Master's students in the Biology program, and numerous other students have passed through his mentorship. He maintains connections with his students, even attending their life milestones, from weddings to career achievements. For Cruz-Vera, it's the students who drive success; he views himself as simply providing them with the platform to excel.

As Hispanic Heritage Month unfolds, it presents a unique opportunity for both reflection and celebration of diversity. Dr. Cruz-Vera emphasizes the significance of embracing multiculturalism within academic and social spaces. He encourages people to actively engage with others from diverse backgrounds, acknowledging that each one of us holds a valuable contribution. Dr. Cruz-Vera emphasizes that Hispanic heritage, with its blend of cultures and influences, enriches the broader American experience.

Cruz-Vera hopes to see a more diverse student population in his classes and lab. He encourages students to overcome hesitations and participate actively, no matter their backgrounds. His message is clear: diversity enriches the educational experience, fostering a sense of unity in a multicultural society.

As the College of Science celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, Cruz-Vera's journey stands as a shining example of the diversity that makes up the US and a reminder of the importance of embracing and celebrating our shared human experiences. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!