Student Spotlight: Irish Esperida

I recently sat down and spoke with Irish Esperida, a Senior studying Mechanical Engineering at UConn. She shares her experience as a woman in STEM and the support system she has built on her academic journey. She hopes to share her experience to encourage more women to enter the STEM field.  

Chelsea Osei: Please tell us why you chose your major/ area of academic interest.     

Irish Esperida: Hi, my name is Francesca Irish Esperida. I’m currently a senior at UConn and I’m majoring in mechanical engineering. I chose my major because my biggest strengths were science and math in high school. I was also interested in space, however, I initially was planning on becoming a pilot. When I found out I did not meet the flight standards, I figured if I can’t fly an aircraft I might as well help build it. I also wanted to go against the stigma of women in STEM.

CO: How do the clubs and activities you’re part of help to supplement your academic interests?    

IE: I’m currently involved in SWE which is the Society of Women in Engineering, EA which is Engineering Ambassadors, FSA which is Filipino Student Association, and Flight Club. Most of these clubs are engineering-related and introduce me to other engineering students with different majors within the field. These clubs also have gotten me involved in other fun activities while applying the information that I’ve learned in school. Recently I went to an Engineering Ambassadors event around Halloween where we had families bring their kids to experience science experiments that we did. My project happened to focus on lasers and mirrors, so I had to apply what I learned here at UConn to spice up the experiment.

Coming to UConn and being surrounded by other engineering students has helped me gain confidence in approaching things I’m unfamiliar with.

Irish Esperida

CO: Tell us about your summer internship and how it turned into a research project.   

IE: This summer I was an undergrad research assistant for RETHI which is the resilient extraterrestrial habitats institute funded by NASA. It was a pretty big deal for me. I was in the resilience team so I had to test the structures of habitats that could be placed on the moon or Mars. In doing so we had to create a prototype of the structure by creating a pressurized box in one of the UConn labs. I had to think of something theoretical and pick two types of materials for the simulation through ANSYS. I had to compare the two types of materials which were aluminum and titanium to see which one was more efficient to bring to space. Within a month, I was able to gather results from the pressure box that would state how it could possibly work in space, and I found that it was titanium that worked the best. It was a big learning experience.

CO: Where was your research displayed?

IE: My research was displayed at the fall frontiers which is a big research event where other undergrad students had to showcase what they did throughout the summer.

CO: How do you navigate being a minority woman in STEM? Do you feel as though being a minority and a woman affects how you’re viewed by your peers?  

IE: Absolutely since I am surrounded by a bunch of guys, I feel the need to consistently show them I am very much capable of doing what they’re doing. So, what kind of drives me through this is just having the confidence, the curiosity, and the interest in applying everything that I’ve learned. I am also very, very passionate about what I’m doing; it gives me big leverage compared to the others. Personally, it’s just a lot more challenging since I’m a minority in STEM. I get questioned a lot as if my work isn’t enough, but having the ability to show them my work is enough is at that is very satisfying to me.

CO: How were you able to find resources to help you succeed?    

IE: I would say friends, family, and the clubs I’m a part of, but it’s mostly my friends. They know my interests, so they let me know anything that’s engineering-related, especially if it has to do with space. In terms of clubs, my club meetings also have something weekly such as a conference or a volunteering event or anything that could be added as experience to my resume.

CO: Do you feel like any of those resources helped you after you transferred from another university?   

IE: For me, it did not help, because transferring from the University of New Haven to UConn was a personal choice. Coming here and being surrounded by other engineering majors is what has helped me gain confidence and comfort in approaching things that I’m very unfamiliar with. In doing so, I not only gained new friends, but I’ve also gained new experiences with those new friends.

CO: Who were the people that supported you in your success?    

IE: I have a lot of people that support me through this journey. Being a minority in STEM, there are some situations that were a bit difficult for me to handle, and I would go to my friends and my family to vent and get support. Being in STEM can be mentally and emotionally challenging, so having a healthy friend group and a good family just helps me get through this as well.

CO: What is one piece of advice you’d give another woman along the same path as you?

IE: A piece of advice going forward is to have confidence in your abilities, but don’t forget to ask for help. STEM can be tough at times, but it’s a huge learning experience and you just have to learn from others and your mistakes. Either way, it’s a very beautiful thing once you completely understand everything.

CO: What are your future plans after graduation?    

IE: My future plans are to, hopefully, get into a master’s program with a company that can help me pay for my degree. I hope in doing so I can also get the experience while furthering my education. I also plan on taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam to get my engineering license.

By Chelsea Osei
Chelsea Osei