Catalina Segura

Catalina Segura (Photo: Chris Becerra)

As the daughter of a physics professor and a lawyer, Catalina Segura set her sites on working in a university. Her father was “truly excited to use science to make a difference,” she recalls. “He was very inspiring.”

But growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, which ranks among the world’s 25 largest cities, Segura turned her concerns to ecology and sustainability. Deforestation has accelerated erosion and habitat loss in the country’s rainforests. By studying forest hydrology — how water moves through forested watersheds — Segura decided to study forestry with the idea of helping reduce such impacts and conserve Colombia’s diverse ecosystems.

She received her bachelor’s from the Universidad Distrital in Bogotá where she was one of three females in a forest engineering program with 70 students. A Fulbright Scholarship enabled her to complete her master’s at the University of Washington, and she went on to the University of Colorado for her Ph.D. She came to Oregon State in 2013.

Terra: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

“Just being at Oregon State still feels like an accomplishment. It’s been a long journey to make it here. It’s a new beginning, but it still feels like, ‘Wow, I made it.’”

Terra: How have gender and diversity influenced your career?

“Where I grew up, there is a prescription for what a woman should do. And it’s the same for men. They are also tied to it. The choices that I made when I was young about what I wanted to study, I had to defend. I became a strongly opinionated person because I had to defend them. While my cousins and friends were studying business and being very traditional, thinking about getting married, I wanted to be outside as a forest engineer. It was not a woman’s job.

“I learned how to navigate that machista world, and when I came to the U.S., it was paradise. It was so much more relaxed. So it’s taken me a while to develop a sensitivity because I was kind of numb. Where I came from, the gender roles are so much stronger, and here, it is so refreshing.

“The forest sector is very male dominated and still is. I’m one of the few females in the department. But it’s so much more inclusive than where I came from. I don’t feel that my gender has made a significant difference.”