On November 15th, 2022, Women & Hi Tech hosted a virtual panel of Latina STEM professionals discussing their experiences and unique journeys. Here are some quotes from our panelists to highlight how insightful, powerful, and meaningful this event was.
Our moderator Doneisha Posey kicked off the event by framing some perspective: Latinos are a diverse population tracing their roots to islands, Mexico, and more than 20 nations across Central and South America. Further, their viewpoints vary widely based on whether they were born in the US or emigrated here. But regardless, many barriers stand in the way of Latinas entering STEM, from societal and familial norms to counselors telling them they should major in something else….The numbers say it all: according to the National Science Foundation, only 2% of Latinas held science and engineering positions in 2021, and that number hasn’t really changed for seven years.
Paula Angarita Rivera: Living in Colombia, I knew I wanted to be an engineer. But expressing this to my academic advisor was my first obstacle in my career. They told me I couldn’t do this; it was a really hard field to study in the States, and I didn’t speak enough English. But applying to Marian University, I was able to remain in community with my faith…sharing the story with my academic advisor there, they were committed to helping me make it work. Five years later I was the first Latina woman to graduate with a dual degree from Marian in mathematics and IUPUI in biomedical engineering….My question today in this phase of my career is what am I doing now to lay the foundation for the next person coming behind me to start their career without all the same challenges?
Amparo de la Peña: I’m very eager to mentor new people because one of the things that made a significant difference for me was being raised to believe there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. It wasn’t a matter of being a girl, a Latina, or from Uruguay, a third-world country: it didn’t matter. If you knew what you wanted to do and put in the work, you could do it. That mindset is part of what I want people to take away….It’s so important to be able to recognize those split-second opportunities that can be life changing if you are open to them, learn to spot them, and are brave enough to make the shift.
Maria Alvim Gaston: STEM was always there for me as a child: I even knew a name for the drug I wanted to create. But since then, as a scientist I have had to reinvent myself many times. I’ve been told about my accent, I speak with my hands, and other feedback. Today I have come to think: If I make you dizzy, just don’t look at me while I am speaking. Yet, there used to be a time I would go into a meeting and sit on my hands just to make others comfortable. But you realize with time it takes too much energy trying to conform to be someone else. Take that energy and put it into educating people to accept you the way you accept them—and also put it into your job, your passions, your community.
Jasmin Gonzalez: By definition, professionalism is competence and skills. It has nothing to do with your personality, your appearance, how your hair may look…none of that has anything to do with professionalism. I think instead a lot of these definitions have to do with white supremacy. So Latinas are taught that being quiet is respectful and you have to follow those ahead of you…By my second year in college, I had decided I would remain respectful, but still share my opinion and also speak up for others. I couldn’t stand anything else. Today I am so glad I can speak up and tell organizations and individuals what is needed to be inclusive. I think all of us may have a pivotal moment—or a few—where we are so uncomfortable we simply must speak up.
Whether you attended the event in November or had to miss it, watch the video on our YouTube channel to revisit the full discussion and hear about the career journeys, learnings, and inspiring messages of our panelists.