Diego Zapata ’19

Diego Zapata '19
Student | Biology | Class of 2019

A love of the natural world has shaped Diego Zapata’s Oxy experience.

As a biology major and director of Oxy’s student-run FEAST organic garden, he’s finding ways to improve sustainability and access to green spaces.

Diego grew up in Northeast Los Angeles with his family after migrating from Mexico, where they had managed a family farm for many generations, so the love of the land comes naturally. He recalls seeing the signs for Occidental College near his neighborhood as a young boy, and knew he was meant to attend.

However, affordability was a real concern, and he knew that attending Oxy would not be possible without financial support. “It's honestly the biggest and most impactful thing for my family for me to come to Oxy, and I'm just incredibly grateful for the scholarships that have enabled me to come to this institution,” he says. “I understand that that's a privilege that not a lot of people have.”

On campus, he’s involved in many initiatives that have empowered him as a student leader and allowed him to pursue his passion, including undergraduate research opportunities, directing the FEAST program, and engaging with the community on important issues like gentrification and protecting green spaces.

As a participant in Oxy’s Undergraduate Research Program, Diego conducted independent research, studying a tiny beetle that is infecting trees in Northeast L.A. with a lethal fungus. His is one of the first in-depth studies of this pest-disease complex, and he’s learning about ways to mitigate the disease and hopefully save the trees.

Thanks to private support, he spent the summer in Costa Rica with a team of Oxy student and faculty researchers to continue his research and make stronger connections with others engaged in this work. “Without scholarships, I wouldn’t have all these great opportunities to engage with my peers and challenge myself academically and personally,” he says. “Scholarships are critically important in making sure this kind of academic experience is accessible to everyone.”

As director of FEAST – the Food, Energy and Sustainability Team – a student-run service that promotes awareness of sustainability among students and manages a community garden on campus, he shares his passion with others. “Our goal is to make sustainability accessible to the whole student body,” Diego says.

Attending Oxy has been transformational for Diego. He’s been able to work with faculty and students on initiatives that are important to him and his community, and he’s gained an incredible education and learned about new professional pathways.

“My career at Oxy has prepared me to pursue what I want to do—create change in my community, fight for those who are disenfranchised or feel they don’t have a voice, and protect the natural world to make sure it is accessible to everyone,” he says.

“Oxy has planted seeds in my soul and my heart that will have a lasting impact for the rest of my life.”