Today I though I would share a small story. As you can tell by the colors of my blog, I love pink! I know it is a very girly color, but there is so much taboo around that color. There are men that don’t like to wear pink because they think it is girly, there are girls that hate the color pink because they don’t want to be the typical girly girl. I think it is just a pretty color that we (women) have used to represent our presence and our GRL PWR.
So, we have this small toolbox at work for the engineers to use whenever we are testing prototypes or other miscellaneous things. However, most of the tools have gone missing or stolen by now. So, I was thinking of ordering a tool kit for myself for work, since I am always struggling to find what I need through what is left over. I was happily browsing the internet for different kits to see which one would fit my needs better, based on what I am always looking for. I got to tell you this is not the first time that I am in search of a tool kit. I own a small personal collection of tools for the house. However, I cannot believe the lack of inclusion in such as simple thing as tools. All of the tool kits are red or orange or blue (all the good ones). And the few that I have seen in pink are filled with crappy and useless items. Some things include house scissors and a spatula. Yes, because I am going to assemble an electrical testing fixture with a spatula (notice my sarcasm there). Give me wire clippers, wrenches, hammers, even throw in a pink drill! The blue kits have them! Anyways, I really want a pink set that is able to provide me with useful tools. Not call it a “house tool kit” that has cheap things. (Besides, if it is pink, it is less likely for my coworker to steal because they would be so easy to track).
I also felt like sharing another small little story about today. So, I attended FABTECH Chicago this past November. I got to tell you, even though the point is to find vendors for your needs, there are so many learning opportunities. You get to see so many new developments! Machines that your company might be owning for years have now developed so much! You get to see everything running, you get to see all new products, automations, supplies, etc. This is awesome if you are new like me. Anyways back to the story, when I came back, I was sharing with my boss all the different colors of powder coating (They had a silver glittery one!) He suggested I requested a sample just to play around with it and test is at our location (Just for fun). But you all know I had to ask for pink! So, I contacted the company we always purchase powder coat from… and they don’t make pink powder coat! I located one that stated to have more than 100 colors. I looked over the catalog and picked a random pink shade and requested a sample. They replied within a couple of days: All pinks are custom colors and could not send me a sample. Well, today one of the engineers was looking into a new type of powder coat that seems to be flexible. So, I thought I would ask him to see if they would send him some pink powder coat… and bingo!!! They will be sending some my way! So, now my coworkers and I have to come up with something to powder coat pink. One asked me if my new car would fit in the powder coat conveyor to try to paint my car pink (sadly not). So, stay tuned to see what we do with this pink powder coat. I have an idea already and I think it’s going to be awesome!!
This past month, I was asked to be a guest speaker at the First Annual Conference hosted by The Sideline Project: “A Latinx Experience: Rompiendo Barreras”.
This event focused on reaching out to Latinx students and providing them with information and guidance in multiple areas such as scholarships, College 101, emotional support, etc. I personally participated in a STEM panel along with 4 other students or professionals in various STEM fields such a math and programming. I felt really grateful to be able to share my experiences and provide tips or support to other Latinx students.
So below, I decided to share some of the questions asked during that event and some that we were not able to cover, due to time, in hopes to provide more information and share it outside of this event.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and what your position at your workplace is?
My name is Diana Iracheta Martinez. I am 23 years old. I am a Mexican immigrant. I moved to the USA at age 12 only speaking Spanish. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Northern Illinois University. I graduated in May 2019. I currently work at Methode Electronics as a Manufacturing Engineer.
What inspired you to go into the field that you are in? Or what motivated you to pursue higher education?
My parents were the biggest influence in wanting to pursue higher education. Both of them had completed a college education in our home country, so they always raised me in a matter where I would look up to being a professional. However, deciding what to study was very challenging. I always had a liking for math, but I was not aware of what I could do with that. I had to explore many different majors, such as nursing and business, since they were popular careers. However, my interest in math and problem solving persisted and eventually guided me to Physics, then it turned into general engineering, to finally mechanical engineering. I think my dad, being an engineer himself (systems and electronics), helped me be aware of the possibilities of being an engineer. If it wasn’t for that, I doubt I would have had enough information about what being an engineer was in order to decide to study that.
What were some of the financial obstacles that you faced while pursuing higher education?
I was privileged to not have to work during my college years thanks to my parents. However, in order to minimize expenses, I would live with $60 a week. This allowance would cover a full tank of gas (since I was a commuter) food for times where I had to stay late or couldn’t pack lunch, and any other misc personal expenses such as personal hygiene products that my family wouldn’t regularly include in their grocery lists ( feminine products, razors, etc). I would watch my family help me tremendously by paying for school and I tried to keep my other expenses at the minimum, since they also provided me with that allowance. Once I began working internships in the summer, I would save up all my money to ration it between the 2 semesters to take over the extra expenses mentioned above.
What was your biggest obstacle majoring in STEM during your college days?
Feeling like I was not smart enough. Feeling like I would never be a good engineer or have a successful future as one. There would be times where I would read and re-read and read the chapter, question or even the answers over and over again, and I simply couldn’t understand what was in front of me. It was a feeling of defeat. It would bring all those negative thoughts of not being good enough or smart enough. But I got to tell you… read it one more time. Do more practice problems. Take a break and go back at it. During the 5 years that it took me to get my engineering degree, I learned that there is simply not one thing that you cannot understand or do. We just have to have patience and keep trying. This is why is so important to go to class, take notes, review the notes (rewrite them too!), do practice problems, do more, do the assignments, re-do them! Even the most impossible thing will become crystal clear if you put all you got. And if you forget later, that’s okay! that’s why we got books. All my coworkers have their old books they refer to all the time. All you need to have is a problem solving attitude, the rest will be right in front of you.
What are some ways that you all believe we can include more Latinx’s in STEM?
I think the most crucial step is to educate students about the careers and possibilities in STEM. There are so many careers and so many things that one can do with a degree, that many times we simply don’t consider them because we don’t know them or what we can do with them. The second thing is having role models to look up. Role models that are involved in the community to a level where young students can connect with them and reach out. I don’t believe having met a Latina engineer in person. I adore the women in the book and movie “Hidden Figures”, but they don’t exactly represent what I feel would be my ideal Latina Engineer role model, especially because, while they are a minority, they are not Latinas. This brings me back to the inspiration of why I created this blog and why I think us Latinas have so much more to give.
What are some ways that you believe Latinx parents can better support their children who are interested in going into STEM?
By not feeling intimidated by a language barrier. Parents are our number one support and we want them to be there for everything. I can count the times that my mom visited my school: 2. Once for my fiancé’s graduation and a second time for mine. I would have loved to give my mom a tour of the engineering building and show her where I spent most of my time while at school. And I am sure I am not the only one. Us as Latinos, we are really close to our family and the thing that we would love the most is sharing this journey with our parents.
Although we see a huge gap and lack of representation of Latinx in STEM fields, the percentage is even lower for Latinas specifically. What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced being a woman of color in your field?
I think there were two things that really challenged me while pursuing engineering. The first one was not feeling like I belonged there. Being a minority was obvious, but the way my classmates reacted was what made it an issue. Nobody (male students) would sit next to me or talk to me. It was as if they didn’t validate me as good enough for engineering or at least that’s how they made me feel. It wouldn’t be until I would prove myself with good grades or completed homework that they would show some interest and only for their own benefit. If we were working in teams (which I always ended up being the group leader), I would have the hardest time making them cooperate and communicate. And it was like that on every single team up to Senior Design (where I was lucky enough to have an awesome team btw). However, I got to say this is not an issue at work and I am so glad that is the case. Maybe it was just the unprofessionalism and disinterest of the younger students compared to the people at work.
The second thing were my own insecurities. Being a girl, my dad never tried to show me how to do “manly” things, so I was left with very little knowledge on common “guy” things such as cars, small house maintenance and hands on skills. This made me feel like I was left out or that there were too many little things that I should have known because all the other students knew. This made me doubt myself and be scared of asking questions. It was until my last semesters at college (after having a couple of internships) that I felt comfortable asking and trying to get trained in how to use machines and start to get hands on.
Is there anything different that you would do if you were to re-do your journey?
I think this last question applied more towards how to complete our education. To me, staying at a community college was a mistake. They trap you in and convince you that you should complete an associates degree, making you take more classes with them. Therefore, I would have taken only the classes I really needed and moved on.
The second thing would have been to begin doing internships earlier. While I was able to graduate with 2 summer internships and a signed salary contract waiting for me as soon as I graduated, I think I would have learned so much more by having started interning since my first year in college.
I hope that these answers can help students that are currently thinking of engineering or are studying engineering already. While I wasn’t a first generation attending college, I was first generation to study in the USA. The college system was so different than in our home country. There were so many questions and so many steps. I was fortunate to always have my parents support. My dad trying to help me as much (like taking me to visit colleges and reminding me to submit FAFSA when the time came around) and my mom by always feeding me and making sure I wore warm clothes, or the right shoes for the snow, or listening to me complain about my classmates. They never doubted me. They never discouraged me. They never stopped me from thinking I could be anything and everything I wanted to be in the world. Lately, I have been really into NASA, and astronauts and space. I have been reading hidden figures, I even got a Katherine Johnson barbie! And guess what? my parents are still there telling me I can be anything.
This is a collage they made to show their support:
I thought I would share with you the post that inspired this blog before I post any new content. I am so excited about this new project that I’ve been having post ideas left and right, and I just can’t stop myself from sitting down to write. Quién lo creería?
I wrote the following facebook post only about a month ago:
“Imagine you are in the middle of a production plant, there’s metal sheets, tubes, coil, etc everywhere. Theres punching, cutting, forming, brazing… Its loud. Parts are greasy. They are heavy. The plant is on full production. When you suddenly see a tiny person in a pink furry coat walking through all of it. Walks directly to a press brake and starts installing a new fixture… And that my friends, its me trying to change the world, break stereotypes, and hopefully open the door for future latinas 💪🏼 In only a few months I’ve gain my colleages trust and became a valuable team member. I have the support of my boss, who has always given me so many opportunities and trust since the first project. I am not scared of going into the shop and getting my hands dirty, handling heavy parts, brazing metal, assambling die sets, running tests. I love it. Not only am I the youngest in there, Or the only female engineer, I am also a Mexican immigrant. First generation living in the USA. And Today I felt good. I felt proud of how badass I am. Because I get to surprise people when they learn that I am a mechanical/manufactuing engineer. I get to sit in a room that was previously full of men and I get to have a voice. Because I can demonstrate just how hardworking mexican’s are. And most importantly because I get to show everyone that I can be a woman and I can also do whatever I want. So, think of me the next time you make a sexist joke, because, just like me, thousands of girls are getting educated and following their dreams.”
And to add visuals, I included evidence of my pink fluffiness.
After that, I kept thinking about sharing little lapses of my life that I thought would be interesting or would provide some insight into what it was to be a young Latina engineer. By no means I am saying I am the first one, nor the ideal or the best one, but just an average that might show you that we can do it.
What I am intending this blog to be is some sort of public diary in hopes to connect to others. I am sure I am not the only pink fluff roaming around unexpected places. Whether is medicine, teaching, law, finance, we are going places. Us women are going places. Us Latinas are going places. So let’s record our story.
Being a 100% honest, when I picked engineering as a career, I was not too sure of what I exactly I would be doing once I graduated. I had no emphasis and did not know what areas interested me. Many other students had it very clear. They wanted to work for a specific company, or they wanted to focus on renewable energy, robotics, etc. It didn’t help that I didn’t have much knowledge on the area. I barely knew what some tools are called (didn’t help that most of the names I knew were in Spanish). Now imagine how blind I was in other guy-like subjects such as cars, engines, cylinders, etc. For me, I was just trying to get through school to somewhat ensure a successful future.
Now, having graduated, I could not like my job any more than I already do. While my job title states: Manufacturing Engineer, I do pretty much everything at work. Since my degree is Mechanical Engineering, I take advantage of my designing skills, which it’s my favorite thing to do by the way. I can aid the engineering design team when there is just too much work to do! I can also create other designs for internal use, such as fixtures, or replacement parts. I was taught the basics on product costing. I help with graphic design on some of our products. I have taken over assembling die sets in the tooling room. I even find myself on the floor helping in the line when something must really ship ASAP. I hardly spend any time sitting on my desk some days! My boss is just about the same way. He is always out and about which tends to be uncommon for engineers.
I have learned so much in the past year. It will be my first year anniversaryy in a little over a month. I can honestly see my growth from day 1 to now. Before I was so afraid to get hands on. I would doubt myself whether I would be doing things wrong. But one of my coworkers gave me a consejo (tip) on my first days: “Don’t be afraid to ask”. And I can’t believe what a big change that can make… If we walk into a place faking that we know what we are doing just to not look stupid, we will never get to learn. So, from day one, I had to accept that I will not always know everything, even if it was something covered in school! I had to be okay in saying: “No, I don’t know” or “Can you please explain this to me”. This was a big challenge for me since I am so shy and try to have the less embarrassing experiences as possible. However, now having done that for about a year I can tell you that I have never had a bad reaction doing that. If there is one thing that people enjoy is to know things and be able to share their knowledge with others. I can’t honestly explain how grateful I am every time someone takes time out of their day to show or explain something to me. Especially my boss, who encourages me to ask and keep asking. and ask again even if I already asked the same question, because nobody knows everything and nobody remembers everything.
Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men. — Katherine Johnson
I always found myself facing obstacles or small victories that I felt that I couldn’t share with others around me. I felt that they didn’t understand. All the other engineers at work were men, all the other professional women I knew had different careers. But there was something in me that knew that there must be someone out there that would get as excited about this journey. Changing the world takes time, and only working little by little we can achieve it. Today, I decided to create a space were I can share my journey as a young Latina engineer. Whether you are reading this because you know me personally, or to support women who are fighting to be successful in this male dominated world, or just happened to have stumbled here, know that I am happy to have finally found a way to free all thoughts as I win, loose, fight, and challenge myself over and over again.