Gerardo Veliz Carillo is a second-year PhD student studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell. Gerardo studies environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology, focusing on air and water flows in order to understand how “the physics affects ecological processes, nutrient transport, pollutant transport [and] model these things accurately.” Soft-spoken and humble, it is only after getting to know him that his passion and leadership within the Latinx community comes to light.
Environmental injustice represents the intersection of Gerardo’s research and his dedication to underprivileged, underrepresented communities. As he works to become an expert in his field, he strives to take what he has learned to “develop comprehensive and inclusive solutions to environmental issues, particularly at the local level.” Gerardo hopes his background offers him a unique perspective in developing tangible solutions to the disproportionate effects of environmental changes on these communities.
From the start of his undergraduate career, Gerardo knew he wanted to be an engineer; however, it was not until he struggled in his engineering courses and a professor took Gerardo under his wing that Gerardo realized “the most impactful people in [his] life were teachers.” As a result, Gerardo hopes to become a professor, in order to “be what someone else has been for [him]” and help Latinx and other underrepresented students succeed in academia and beyond.
When asked about the differences in his experiences as an undergraduate student in California and now, as a graduate student at Cornell, Gerardo describes the two as “completely different,” stating that Cornell’s program has made him feel “supported [and] in control.” In many ways, this has been a result of the community he has found at Cornell. Indeed, one of the most important pieces of advice Gerardo received from his former mentor when choosing a PhD program was to “find and commit yourself to building community wherever you go.”
For Gerardo, fostering community often takes the form of mentorship. As an e-board member of the Latinx Graduate Student Coalition (LGSC), he coordinates the Mi Communidad Mentorship Program, which seeks to match Latinx undergraduate students with graduate student mentors at Cornell. Gerardo especially appreciates the program’s ability to showcase the “wide array of possibilities” for one’s path to graduate school. As a Latino, he recognizes the diversity of what constitutes Latinidad and how his privilege within that identity allows him to “move through these academic spaces more easily than other folks” and aims “acknowledge that when doing these mentorship programs.”
Outside of LGSC, Gerardo breakdances in Absolute Zero, Cornell’s breakdancing team, a passion he has pursued for almost a decade now. “I think of it as a me thing, but it’s inherently a community thing. If there’s no community, there’s no breakdancing.”
As Gerardo enters the second year of his PhD program, he hopes to build the Mi Communidad Mentorship Program and continue working with organizations across campus to support the Latinx community, while continuing to connect with more individuals and pursuing his passions. His advice to Latinx students considering or entering graduate school: “Take care of your mental health from day one. Talk about it.”