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As a child, school wasn’t easy for Gil Delgado. He was born and raised in Mexico, and when he was seven years old, his family began coming to the US for seasonal field work. He attended school in California, but Delgado was not at home in class, where he understood little English and had few minority peers or role models. His education was interrupted when the family returned to Mexico for several months each year.
At age fourteen, Delgado moved to Mexico City for high school; there, the challenges were different. He had to catch up in Spanish, and little foundation for subjects like algebra and geometry. But he remembers the first lecture of his physics course, which connected his childhood interests to the course of his life to come.
“The teacher walked in and said: ‘Your brain knows how to do physics. I see you guys playing volleyball, and your brain is calculating how hard, at what angle to hit the ball to make it over the net. I’m going to teach you how to put that on paper,’” Delgado recalls. He calls it an “immediate awakening,” the kind of system he realized he’d been seeking since childhood. “It was fascinating to me,” he adds, “that you could take something you could observe and describe it with physics equations and math.”
Today Delgado is vice president of advanced technology development at Nova Ltd., headquartered in Rehovot, Israel, with R&D centers in Germany and the US. The company provides metrology solutions for advanced process control used in semiconductor manufacturing. In the role, Delgado develops technology strategies for the company’s future; he tends to a state-of-the-art innovation center and directs a growing team of top-tier science and technology professionals.
That physics teacher saw Delgado’s extraordinary potential and encouraged him to pursue higher education in physics. The best opportunities were in the US—but Delgado loved Mexico, where he had the right balance of community and independence. Nevertheless, he eventually followed his teacher’s guidance but faced another cultural adjustment when returning to American customs and the English he had scarcely practiced.
Homesick, he returned to Mexico once more to marry his longtime sweetheart, and they started a family. Still searching for a path, he joined the Navy and worked as an aviation electrician aboard an aircraft carrier, intending to continue his studies later.
“Once I got out of the Navy, my wife and I entered university, but we had one child and a second on the way,” he says. “Getting a degree with two kids was very challenging but very satisfying, and my teachers all encouraged me to continue my education.”
Thanks to a major scholarship and the ongoing support of his professors, he stayed at UC Fresno for his master’s and later earned a PhD at UC Davis.
Looking back, Delgado is grateful to the mentors he had. Still, he wishes he had seen more minority role models in the field. While he was pursuing his undergraduate degree, friends would ask him what he needed college for, and at times it was difficult to find an answer. He didn’t always have a clear sense of the professional role he wanted. Meanwhile, teachers pushed him to pursue more and more education.
“At the time I was on my academic journey, most Hispanics were focused on a high-paying job rather than something they were passionate about,” the VP explains. “More mentors in the field could give guidance and advice on paths [they] should seek. I believe that we can find success by following what we’re passionate about.”
With luck and persistence, Delgado has done just that. And at this stage, he seeks opportunities to inspire others to do the same. Nova’s leadership intentionally seeks and empowers professionals from underrepresented demographics as part of the company’s ESG strategy. For a growing company in a competitive field, it can be an exciting advantage. For his part, Delgado hires and mentors in pursuit of that goal.
He came to Nova from a larger firm, so he’s had to adjust his approach to staffing and resources, but he wants to help turn it into a billion-dollar company. Getting there will take more than a big budget or a large team. He shared that the key will the people and the vision.
“I’m a visionary-type leader. I like to empower and inspire people . . . earn their trust. I like to look at the big picture and the long-term vision,” Delgado says. “Having the right alignment makes us successful. I feel like I’m accomplishing that, and I have the support of management and this company.”
In time, leaders like Delgado can help spread those advantages throughout the field. “I am proud to work for a company that has an accepting environment and values gender, cultural diversity, and inclusion. Diversity is going to bring more fruitful ideas, and this is what we need,” he says. “Different imagination, different ideas, different ways of thinking is needed in order to solve some of the most complex problems in the world.”