BRI Student Spotlight: Aaron Ortega-Gonzalez

Aaron Ortega-Gonzalez is fortunate to have mentors in his life. As a child, Aaron was inspired by his uncle, who managed the family’s small ranch, which was located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico.

“I was born and raised in a small, rural city called Cuauhtemoc, in the heart of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico,” said Aaron. “Since childhood, I have developed a passion for outdoor activities. I spent many weekends and holidays working with cattle or having fun riding horses and observing wildlife in the beautiful landscape. From a very early age, I knew I wanted a career where I would be able to work with wildlife.”

With the support of his family, Aaron earned an ecology degree at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua. After that, he had the opportunity to get involved in projects related to wildlife habitat conservation with several conservation organizations in Mexico, where he worked with Mexican landowners on various projects to improve wildlife habitat. During that time, he attended a conference where he heard about the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University for the first time.

“Some of the presenters at the conference were from BRI, and I became curious about it. I met Dr. Carlos Gonzalez through other contacts and began an email correspondence with him.”

A move back to his hometown landed him a job more related to the industrial part of ecology. He worked in a timber company that processed wood from forests into commercial products.

“It was a decent job, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to work with wildlife, and I felt like I was losing track. That’s when I began pursuing the idea of a graduate degree.”

He continued communicating with Dr. Gonzalez at BRI, who encouraged him to apply for a graduate position. 

“In 2020, Dr. Gonzalez helped me get things moving so I could come to Alpine as a graduate student. He helped me with the visa and all the required paperwork so I could come to school here.”

Though he understands English, Aaron was not a fluent English speaker when he first came to Alpine, so that was another hurdle he had to overcome. With Dr. Gonzalez’s support and encouragement, Aaron applied and was accepted as a Sul Ross graduate student. 

“Dr. Gonzalez has so supportive, and I consider him to be a mentor and a friend. He has helped me so much academically and has also helped me become a more proficient English speaker. I know I would not have succeeded without the support of Dr. Gonzalez and everyone at BRI.”

Aaron is finishing up his graduate thesis project, which examines the impact of habitat restoration on scaled quail. Scaled quail is an iconic gamebird of the Chihuahuan Desert, whose population has been declining across most of its range in Texas. The project aims to improve habitat quality for scaled quail by implementing restoration practices that are designed to reduce soil erosion and enhance plant growth. He expects to finish up soon and hopes to defend his thesis in May 2024.

“I feel so fortunate to have landed here, because BRI has such an incredible reputation, and I know firsthand what a helpful and supportive environment this is. I would advise any student who may be considering pursuing a master’s degree at BRI to go for it!” 

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