In Elementary school, I dreamed of exploring Mars as NASA’s top astronaut. In Middle school, I was fascinated by the endless number of experiments I would surely conduct as a renowned scientist. By the time I sat in my Algebra II class in High school, however, my lack of confidence in my math skills drove me to choose trial law as my key to professional success. I faced a harsh reality: STEM was reserved for only the elite in math and science. My foundation in mathematics at that point had glaring cracks — there was no way I could feasibly become an engineer. Fast forward to 5 years later, almost at the end of my third semester as a Biomedical Engineering major. It wasn’t easy, but it was most certainly worth it.
The field of engineering is diverse in everything but its engineers. As a Black and Hispanic woman, I am a minority within a minority in engineering. While I knew STEM was a male-dominated field, I didn’t know the true extent of the issue: “Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce.” I am no stranger to being one of only a few girls in a classroom of 50 students. I am no stranger to being the only Black or Hispanic student in a classroom of 50 students. I am no stranger to breaking the mold. I’m an engineer to help break the mold of what an engineer “looks like” and to dissolve the barriers that currently exist between STEM and minority and female students.
This passion to enrich the field of engineering wasn’t always present within me. I originally decided to become a Biomedical Engineer in order to craft a solution to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the biggest threat to the NFL as we know it. The rising fear that more and more players are suffering from the disease due to chronic concussions is causing more concerned individuals to call for the end of direct contact in football. The beauty of engineering lies in its core value: solving issues for the betterment of society. I knew I wanted to solve the issue of CTE in both the NFL and patients in general for not only the preservation of one of America’s most beloved sports but for the enhancement in the quality of life of individuals suffering from this relatively mysterious disease. Biomedical Engineering equipped me with the tools I needed to achieve this; My passion for inclusion in STEM grew as I discovered who I am as an engineer.
The last three semesters have been challenging, but I don’t regret a single second of them. In high school, I believed STEM only had room for the highly intelligent. I realize now as a STEM student that only the highly motivated, resilient, and passionate are granted the honor of graduating with a STEM degree. As I approach my fourth semester, I’d like to share some wisdom that has been invaluable to my success and progress:
1. The path to success is paved with failures. Learn to pick yourself up when you fall.
2. It takes a village. Find your people early on and be there for them as they are for you.
3. College is not a race. How long it takes to finish does not matter, it only matters that you finish.
4. Say “Yes” often. There will be countless opportunities available to you, take advantage of them.
5. Nothing is more important than your well-being. Taking a break does not make you lazy, even Olympians take time off.
6. You are capable of more than you know. Never let anyone make you doubt that.
As the first engineer in my family, I had a lot of uncharted territory to explore before making it to where I am today. I can say with the utmost confidence, however, that I made the right decision. While my Elementary school-self won’t get to see me in a spacesuit, I hope she sees an engineer making a difference.
1 “Statistics.” Statistics | National Girls Collaborative Project, https://ngcproject.org/statistics.