Texas Tech University

Bridging a Language Gap

Weston Brooks

March 15, 2024

Jimena working on research equipment

Jimena Aguiriano is improving communication between Spanish-speaking farm workers and English-speaking veterinarians and farm managers.

Over many years of experience, Jimena Aguiriano has worked across several different areas in agriculture. So finding connections of how agriculture is tied to One Health has sparked a lifelong passion for her to discover ways to improve human, animal and ecosystem health in the agricultural industry.

One of the many ways she saw a One Health connection was seeking a way to bridge the communication gap between Spanish-speaking farm workers, and English-speaking veterinarians and farm managers. Improving this communication will ultimately enhance animal welfare and wellbeing. 

Aguiriano is originally from Honduras. She received her bachelor's in Agronomy and her master's in Sustainable Agriculture at Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras. 

Now she finds herself in Amarillo, Texas, pursuing her doctorate at Texas Tech University's School of Veterinary Medicine's innovative Ph.D. in One Health Sciences program. She is advancing her knowledge and research using One Health principles to make a positive impact in the agricultural industry. 

Let's get to know Aguiriano through a series of questions. 

Tell us a little bit about your family. How has the culture you grew up around influenced you to be the person you are today?

I grew up in a very traditional culture within a humble but highly aspirational family in Honduras. From the very beginning, my parents influenced me to always give my best. They instilled in me the belief that the best legacy they could leave me was a solid education, something no one could take away. Consequently, they laid the groundwork for my early educational journey, which proved instrumental in securing the scholarships I have had the opportunity to obtain.

My mother consistently inspired me to see beyond our limitations. As a primary school teacher, she would tell me from an early age, “I know you will go far; your future is not here, you just must believe it. I know you can do more; do not settle.” My father's greatest influence in my life has been the value of hard work. He is an entrepreneur with his glass business, working hard to fulfill what he considers his purpose in life.

Now, as a mother myself to a beautiful three-year-old daughter, I comprehend each of these invaluable life lessons. They have motivated me to make the necessary decisions to pursue my dreams and provide a better quality of life for my daughter, even if it means spending some years away from her. She is my personal inspiration in my life so being a better mom for her is what makes me wake up every morning.

How did you find your passion in research?Jimena working on research

I am a people person, but also, I consider myself like a “pig lady”. My experience in the swine industry has opened my path to becoming the compassionate advocate for both human and animal well-being that I am today. Engaging with farm workers and understanding the challenges they face has allowed me to bridge the gap between the people on the field and the broader agricultural community.

My journey in the swine industry has not only deepened my understanding of sustainable practices but has also heightened my awareness of the intricate relationships between humans, animals, and the environment. As I navigated the complexities of swine production, I realized that a comprehensive approach, encompassing effective communication and a commitment to animal welfare, was essential for creating positive change within the industry.

This unique perspective has fueled my passion for One Health, motivating me to pursue a Ph.D. at Texas Tech to further contribute to the synergy between language, agriculture, and animal welfare.

My identity as a people person and a pig lady interconnected with my professional journey, guiding me toward the intersection of research, sustainability, and effective communication in the pursuit of a healthier and harmonious coexistence between humans and animals in the agricultural landscape with a holistic approach.

Why did you choose Texas Tech?

Back when I started my bachelor's, going for a higher degree felt like a far-off goal. However, things changed when I got into swine production after my bachelor's. While it was a cool experience, I noticed that there was not enough focus on making the industry sustainable. So, I decided to do a master's in Sustainable Agriculture Production back at my old school in Honduras.Jimena with mentor Arlene Garcia

During that time, I started looking into animal welfare and realized how connected human, animal, and environmental health are. Seeing a lack of knowledge about this in Latin America, I teamed up with experts to learn more. That is how I contacted Dr. John McGlone, a big name in animal welfare, who introduced me to my current advisor, Dr. Arlene Garcia, assistant professor of behavior and welfare at Texas Tech's School of Veterinary Medicine. Thanks to their guidance, I got a scholarship for a Ph.D. program at Texas Tech, where I now study One Health.

My background is all over the place – from working with pigs to a master's in Sustainable Agriculture. It gives me a good overall view of how things connect in agriculture. Working across different areas, I dug into how animal welfare, sustainable practices, and human health all tie together. Now, as a Ph.D. student in One Health, I'm living the dream. I'm determined to use what I've learned to make positive changes for both animals and people, and considering my focus on sustainability, for the environment too.

What is your research focus?

My current research focuses on the use of Spanish language for specific purposes on agriculture on farms around Texas and soon in some areas near North Carolina. The goal is to bridge the language gap between Spanish-speaking farm workers and English-speaking veterinarians and farm managers to contribute to the welfare of animals by addressing the communication gaps in the U.S. animal production industry.

Recognizing the increasing significance of the Spanish-speaking workforce in this sector, my research is aligned with the principles of One Health, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health. The primary goal is to investigate the vital role of Spanish language proficiency in improving communication and, consequently, enhancing animal welfare on swine, dairy, poultry, and beef cattle farms. By fostering effective communication, the aim is not only to create a more harmonious and efficient working environment but also to contribute to the overall well-being of both humans and animals.

Through a needs analysis, I assess industry requirements from the perspective of English-speaking animal professionals to identify communication challenges and gaps. Subsequently, we are working on developing courses tailored to teaching Spanish for specific purposes in Agriculture. This educational initiative targets both undergraduate and graduate students, aiming to cultivate language skills among future professionals.

The final phase of my research involves evaluating the effectiveness of these courses through internships. Students will have the opportunity to apply their acquired language skills in real industry scenarios, and we will assess how their interventions influence animal welfare on farms. This comprehensive approach not only contributes to language skill development but also supports the broader goal of creating a positive impact on the well-being of animals in the agricultural sector, aligning with the holistic perspective of One Health.

Also, in the lab of animal welfare and behavior at the school, we work to analyze strategies to reduce the level of stress in animals and improve their overall health.

Who is your mentor and how are you working together? 

My mentor is Dr. Arlene Garcia. She has extensive experience in the industry and is also a mother. She has become my role model in various aspects, and I am happy to work with her.

Both of us have very distinct personalities, but we work well together. We collaborate closely, working hard and understanding each other's ways of working. I have felt how Dr. Garcia has gradually influenced my career as a researcher. Looking back a year and a half ago, I am definitely not the same person who started this program. Dr. Garcia has offered me her trust and support, demonstrating that she is always there to lend her support whenever needed.

What are your plans after completing the One Health Ph.D. Program?

My long-term career goal is to work as a global animal welfare advisor for a private company. This is where I would use my expertise and knowledge to work with primarily pigs to give advice, teach and educate about animal welfare in the Latin American and United States agricultural industry. I also want to continue to help bridge the language gap between the Hispanic farm workforce, farmers and veterinarians to improve the welfare of animals. 

What are your favorite things to do outside of school?

I am currently a fan of F45, a high-intensity training and high-impact program. I have so much energy, and this is the best way to release stress and stay focused on my daily life.

I am passionate about podcasts. They are like therapy to me. In the last Spotify wrap-up, I had a report of at least fifteen days (about two weeks) in accumulated hours of podcast listening. 

I also love to dance. To me, three hours of dancing feels like ten minutes to me. Another thing that I love to do is spend time traveling with my daughter back in Ecuador.