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Geological Sciences Doctoral Student Awarded Diana Natalicio Fellowship

Last Updated on July 08, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Originally published July 08, 2020

By Victor R. Martinez

UTEP Communications

Since Amanda Labrado was a young girl, she has been passionate about rocks and the great outdoors.

 Amanda Labrado in the field doing research in Castle Valley, Utah.
Amanda Labrado in the field doing research in Castle Valley, Utah.

When the time came to decide what she wanted to do in life, it was only natural that it would involve geological sciences.

“I collected rocks and loved the outdoors since I was a little kid, so when it came time to choose a major, geology simply made sense,” said Labrado, a doctoral candidate in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Geological Sciences. “I remember taking my first intro geology class with Dr. Laura Serpa, and being in awe that I would study Earth and all its glory for my career. After I learned that field experiences were required to graduate, I was even more motivated to continue my education in the geosciences.”

Labrado recently was awarded the Diana Natalicio Dissertation Research Fellowship for 2020-21. Natalicio is President Emerita of UTEP. She led the campus as President from 1988 to 2019.

“When I first received the congratulatory email, I was very humbled and grateful,” she said. “Our University has many amazing women and men working toward completing their doctoral degrees, and I am so appreciative to be representing our University this year.”

Labrado is expected to complete her doctorate in May 2021. She received a B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Geology from UTEP in December 2012 and an M.S. in Geosciences with a minor in Biogeochemistry from The Pennsylvania State University in May 2017. 

“Amanda is a great role model for our UTEP community,” said Lin Ma, Ph.D., associate professor and graduate adviser for the Department of Geological Sciences. “The graduate committee in geological sciences is excited to nominate Amanda for her scholar achievements and her passions with science and education. Our department is so proud of having Amanda and many similarly great students who will make an impact on our society in many ways in the near future.”

The fellowship provides $10,000 to support a student for the last semester of dissertation work.

“Dr. Natalicio was UTEP’s first female president and helped shape UTEP into the amazing minority-serving, R1 research institution it is now,” Labrado said. “For me, it means being part of the legacy she left behind. I was able to shake her hand when I received my undergraduate degree, and although I will not be able to do so for my doctoral degree, I am so happy to graduate as a Natalicio fellow.”

Labrado is curious about the intersection between living and nonliving systems. Her dissertation will focus on how microbial life in the subsurface impacts carbonate caprock formation at the top of salt domes.

“After I graduate, my goal is to secure a postdoctoral position with NASA or a national lab,” she said. “I would like to conduct research and eventually work for an organization like the National Science Foundation to continue promoting diversity and inclusiveness in STEM fields.”

Labrado advises other doctoral students to know when to work, rest and look ahead.

“You may experience imposter syndrome, but know that you and your work are important,” she said. “Balance is required to complete the long and difficult journey, so learn how to take breaks without giving up. Lastly, minority women in STEM still need more representation, and as we stand on the shoulders of giants, we must continue the work to provide another set of shoulders for future generations to stand upon.”