UW Graduate School

Andreas Chavez

andreas-chavez


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Biologist

Education

  • Doctoral degree in Biology, University of Washington
  • Master’s degree in Wildlife Ecology, Utah State University
  • Bachelor’s degree in Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Career path

  • Postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, San Diego, Endangered Species Biologist
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana, Wolf Biologist

Back to School

At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Andreas had progressed from working in the field monitoring wolves in Montana to helping write policies that would protect other endangered species in California. It was a logical career path from the field to the desk. But increasingly, Andreas became more aware of the need for more basic research in biology—such as what constitutes a species and what shaped their evolution—to better inform conservation policy issues. Exploring these questions, he realized, could only be done in an academic setting. So he left the Fish and Wildlife Service and went back to grad school for his doctorate degree.

In choosing his graduate program, Andreas placed heavy emphasis on finding the ideal mentor. He found the right fit at the University of Washington’s Biology program and Professor Jim Kenagy.

“I met Jim at a mammology conference in Texas,” Andreas recalled. “I went on my own, which was a little intimidating. I had heard of him, and I sought him out. I met his grad students and came away impressed by the cohesiveness and diversity of his lab. It definitely stood out. I hadn’t considered [the diversity of a lab] as a criteria [to choosing a lab] prior to seeing that, but that made me see how valuable that was.”

Feeling Supported

Andreas chose his advisor and lab wisely. “Jim has been tremendously supportive as a mentor. He’s never wavered on believing in me,” he said.

Andreas is grateful not just for the academic support but also for his advisor’s general efforts to promote diversity in academia and encourage students of color. “Jim’s actions towards promoting diversity probably speak louder than his words. Recruiting people of color into the science fields has many challenges,” Andreas admitted. “We have a serious ‘leaky pipeline’ issue for people of color in academia. One of the best ways to improve retention and diversity is to ensure graduate students of color are really well prepared and empowered. If you were to ask faculty [why they don’t have a more diverse faculty], they would say, ‘Oh, we just don’t get the candidates.’ Jim recognizes that. He’s always trying to help me feel more empowered by encouraging me to publish my research, as well as saying things like ‘Hey, when you are a professor someday…'”

Another major source of support was the UW Graduate School’s Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP), geared towards recruiting and retaining the best underrepresented minority graduate students, such as Andreas.

“GO-MAP supported me financially my first year. These kind of fellowships are invaluable because they relieve the teaching load on graduate students and allow them to focus on their research,” he said. The other value of GO-MAP has been its social events that draw graduate students of color from across campus.

“I made good friends from other departments that I see regularly. Without GO-MAP, I would never have met them.” They come from departments as diverse as the College of Education, Ethnomusicology and Health Sciences. “We try to meet once a month for Sunday brunch. It is nice to share with others who have similar backgrounds and interests. Sometimes this is challenging to find in our departments. For example, in Biology we have over 100 graduate students, and maybe only six or so are from underrepresented minority groups. This can be a big shock for people that come to UW from other parts of the country where they didn’t feel like such a minority.”

The Need for Faculty of Color

“The value of having faculty of color is multifaceted. You can’t ignore the mentorship aspect, even though I don’t have the data to back it up,” Andreas said, true to his science training. “Having those you look up to of similar background can be inspiring. Graduate School can be an isolating experience—for everyone—and it becomes even more so without people of similar backgrounds at higher positions that have paved some of the paths ahead of you.”

Andreas would like to see administrations push harder for more diverse faculty. Often, the hiring process is largely left to current faculty—a process Andreas would like to see expanded.

“Current faculty have an idea of the academic culture they want to preserve. They want faculty who will fit in with current faculty, which is good; but oftentimes this leads to faculty that don’t reflect the demographics of the broader public,” Andreas said. “One of the only ways that diversity can be improved is if there’s a directive from the administration higher up. The value of diversity is not always apparent to everyone, and for many, unless they are directed to think or do something about it, it’s not going to change.”