Elvin Delgado: Road map to success


Simone Corbett, Staff Reporter

Academic success did not come easily for Central Geography Professor Elvin Delgado.

As a student at the University of Puerto Rico, Delgado attended lectures taught in Spanish, while reading from textbooks written in a language that he did not yet fully understand: English.

“I just learned English 15 years ago. In college, I had to read my English written textbooks with a dictionary,” Delgado said. “American students read three chapters in an hour, it took me three hours to read one chapter.”

The Puerto Rico native said it was very hard to learn once he began his undergraduate career at University of Puerto Rico.

Delgado faced many hardships growing up, from the stresses of divorced parents and a distant father, to unstable finances.

Despite these hardships, Delgado, a first generation college student, used his circumstances as his motivation to keep going.

“Although it was very hard, when I get my mind to something, I have to just do it,” Delgado said. “I now have a much greater respect for first-generation minority college students.”

A career in academia was never on Delgado’s agenda. Delgado attended a public high school that specialized in the arts from seventh to 12th grade. After being exposed to various art forms throughout these years, Delgado discovered his passion for photography.

Elvin Delgado’s brother, Christian Delgado, who now resides in New York, said the thought of his brother going into teaching never crossed his mind.

“I don’t think anybody, I mean anybody would even jokingly guess that he would end up as a University professor,” Christian Delgado said. “I thought he would end up like the photographer in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’ putting himself in extreme situations to get the perfect photo, because that’s what he did.”

With a natural interest in geography, Elvin Delgado’s dream was to become a photographer for National Geographic.

“He stared at that magazine for hours,” Christian Delgado said. “I understand now, he was studying the geography and the art of the photos.”

To Elvin Delgado’s surprise, it only took a matter of years for this dream to unfold.

Elvin Delgado’s curiosity in geography and the natural sciences led him to seek advising from Angel David Cruz, University of Puerto Rico’s Geography Department Chair. Cruz now serves as Delgado’s mentor.

“One of the things he always said was that I’m like his dad. He’s shown me so much love, appreciation and respect that has really touched me,” Cruz said.

According to Cruz, Elvin Delgado called him one day and expressed interest in geography.

Elvin Delgado and Cruz met the next day and by the end of their meeting, Elvin Delgado was on his way to declaring a geography major, with an emphasis in medical geography.

“He was very intelligent and conversational. He quickly became interested,” Cruz said. “He was always generous, and willing to help others.”

During Elvin Delgado’s undergraduate years, Cruz presented him with an internship opportunity at National Geographic in Washington D.C. Cruz said Delgado was so generous, that when he received the application materials for the competitive internship, he gave the information to multiple students so they could also apply.

With Cruz’s support and guidance, Elvin Delgado’s hard work landed him a six-month internship at National Geographic as cartographer in 2000.

“I dreamt of working at National Geographic as a photographer, never a cartographer,” Elvin Delgado said.

Cartography particularly struck his interest because he wanted to create maps and learn about the art and science that goes into them.

“Geography is such an underestimated discipline, and it’s so powerful,” Elvin Delgado said

In addition to geography and photography, Elvin Delgado excelled in many other areas, especially sports.

“Elvin was considered one of the best fencers in Puerto Rico,” Christian Delgado said.

Elvin Delgado traveled as far as the Dominican Republic to represent the University of Puerto Rico.

“He competed in a competition where whoever won would’ve made the Olympic team,” Christian Delgado said. “Unfortunately, one of his blades broke and injured his leg, preventing him from winning.”

Christian Delgado said everyone they knew was confident he would’ve won.

“As an athlete he was incredible. He had a natural athletic ability to be good at anything when it came to sports,” Christian Delgado said.

Despite his background, there was never a doubt that Elvin Delgado would be successful. His talents even extend to the music scene.

Cruz said that Elvin Delgado was once a part of a merengue music group during his undergraduate years. The group would travel to perform salsa-esque music throughout Puerto Rico and the states.

Elvin Delgado eventually found himself attending school as a full-time student, while perfecting his fencing and Judo skills and working at The Gap. With so many commitments, Elvin Delgado’s grades began to slip.

He soon realized he needed to commit to what was most important. Cruz told Elvin Delgado to picture what he wanted his life to look like in 30 years.

“I said ‘listen, do you want to stay at the Gap or do you want to go to graduate school and make a significant contribution,’” Cruz said. “He’s like a son to me, and I think he perceived that from the beginning.”

Elvin Delgado notes Cruz as being one of the greatest influences in his life because Cruz believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.

“He brought up the idea of National Geographic,” Elvin Delgado said. “It is because of him that I am here.”

Elvin Delgado’s consistent determination led him to complete a Master’s of Science degree at University of Akron in Ohio, and earn his Ph.D. from Syracuse University’s highly competitive program.

Upon completion of his senior research project in Venezuela, multiple universities offered him teaching opportunities.

Elvin Delgado joined Central’s geography department in September 2012, partly due to the fact that Ellensburg proved to be the best place to raise a family.

Today, Elvin Delgado is working hard to establish a new energy institute at Central, which would include degrees to prepare students for paid apprenticeships in areas involving energy management.

“I always tell my students you can do anything in life, you just have to work hard,” Elvin Delgado said.

Elvin Delgado loves helping his students, and watching them succeed.

“I try to inspire my students to see beyond the technical aspects of energy so they will better understand geography,” Elvin Delgado said. “Whether that means choosing paper over plastic or walking to school over driving, I try to get my students to see that every decision they make has an impact.”