Karen Gallardo Cruz is a Chicana biologist and adjunct faculty at Diablo Valley College. As a DACAmented immigrant, she has faced many obstacles in completing her education and therefore understands the value of taking advantage of opportunities presented and creating opportunities when they’re otherwise limited. After three years at Solano Community College, she transferred to UC Berkeley to complete her Bachelor’s degree, where she completed a research project in French Polynesia and earned a research fellowship to complete a soundscape ecology project in collaboration with the University of Hawaii at Hilo. During her Master’s degree at UH Hilo, she studied how helicopter noise affects bird song and organized the university’s first-ever Women in STEM Conference to hold a space for women in STEM to educate, empower, and uplift each other. Recognizing that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the tremendous help from mentors, she returned to her hometown in the Bay Area to teach and mentor community college students that come from similar backgrounds as herself: many immigrants, low-income, and first-generation college students. She strives to help diversify STEM fields by sharing and creating opportunities for students and communities of color to participate in science and explore the outdoors.

When Karen is not teaching or working on research, she likes to salsa dance, hike, go birding, and share delicious meals with family and friends.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

Yes, a lil chihuahua who likes to sit on our shoulders like a parrot

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

If you count the million and one postcards I’ve collected from parks my friends and I have been to and my lamp with Hawaiian birds on it, yes.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Savory

7 Do you speak any other languages?

Spanish is my first language and the only language I speak with my parents. I’ve also learned enough Brazilian Portuguese to get by. 🙂

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Photography and science writing

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Psychology (I’m fascinated by human behavior) or Paleontology (I love the idea of understanding what the world was like before us)

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Assuming risks of COVID-19 are over, to visit my wonderful friends in Hilo, on Hawaii’s Big Island!

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

I’d love to be able to turn into any animal I wanted. If I want to fly, I can be a bird. If I want to be invisible, I’ll be a fly on the wall. Also, I’d finally be able to talk to animals!

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

I love listening to podcasts. I recommend Dope Labs, a science podcast hosted by two dope black women in science; Latina to Latina, a podcast that interviews amazing Latinas from many fields and will leave you feeling super inspired; and The Friend Zone, a mental health podcast that will make you look into yourself, but also make you think about the world, all while cracking up with the hosts, who are hilarious.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Wake up early, go on a hike and have a picnic, then come back home and relax with a book.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

My computer, music, my mom’s Mexican food

15 What beverage gives you life?

Agua de fresa (strawberry water?)

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

A singer

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

My family

19 What got you excited in science?

The prospect of new discoveries

20 What excites you about science now?

Exploring and finding answers to the unknown and getting others (especially kids) excited about science too!

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Hot Cheetos with limón

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I used to sing mariachi in high school and undergrad!

23 What is your favorite game?

Does Mario Party for Nintendo 64 count?

24 What is the last book you read?

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Just keep doing what you love and success will follow.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Jumping off South Point (a small sea cliff) on Big Island

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Take care of and nurture your friendships, always.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Go for an evening walk in nature

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Avatar the Last Airbender

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Not sure if this qualifies as weird, but I flew my mom’s tamales from CA to Alaska and carried them in my daypack as I hiked them up a mountain. My friends and I ate them at the top for lunch 🙂

31 What is your favorite animal?

The Hawai’i ‘Elepaio, a fluffy brown flycatcher

32 What is your favorite book?

Tuesdays with Morrie

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Refried beans with Cotija cheese, homemade salsa, and Mexican bolillo (a type of bread roll)

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

First day of Spring

35 What is your favorite plant?

‘Ōhiʻa Lehua tree

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Bolas spiders trick male moths into thinking theyʻre flying toward a female by swinging around a silk thread with a sticky droplet that mimics female moth hormones. When the male approaches, it sticks to the droplet and gets eaten. So cool.

37 What is your favorite season?

Spring

38 What is your favorite smell?

Damp earth

39 What is your favorite sound?

Birdsong in the rain

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

My ability to befriend others

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Parangaricutirimícuaro

42 What is your proudest moment?

The day the Women in STEM Conference I’d envisioned and planned for months finally became a reality, with 100+ attendees composed of amazing women in STEM and allies in one room.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

A large, old willow tree

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

That I can walk three blocks and get to the hills, where I regularly come across snakes, woodpeckers, deer, and songbirds

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I dream of doing field research in the Amazon (while somehow evading all the parasites)

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Erica Ta @ETaphonehome, Jefferey Ward @JeffreyMWard, Corinna Newsome @hood_naturalist, Kylle Roy @ROD_entomology