Hispanic Heritage Month: Latina SWEsters, Part 3

Meet and learn more about five of the SWEsters in SWE’s Latino Affinity Group: Yareni Lara-Rodríguez, Kirsten Hooper, Claudia Galván, Bianca McCartt and Alma Lopez.
Hispanic Heritage Month graphic

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, SWE is highlighting Hispanic and Latina women engineers in a series of blog posts. This is our final blog post on members, but look out for our SWE Diverse Hispanic Heritage Month podcast on October 15, 2019!

Meet and learn more about five of the SWEsters in the SWE Latinos Affinity Group: Yareni Lara-Rodríguez (Mechanical Engineering graduate student at University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez), Kirsten Hooper (Geotechnical Engineering intern at GeoEngineers, Inc.), Claudia Galván (Technical Advisor at Early Stage Innovation), Bianca McCartt (Engineer at GE Aviation) and Alma Lopez (Data Science Enthusiast).

(Read about Justina Sanchez, Ivelisse Del Valle Figueroa, Emma Hagel, and Lorna Holt, in our “part 1” blog. Read about Margarita A. Chi-Miranda, Elizabeth Abbene, Grisel Del Hierro Barron, and Evelyn Cortez-Davis in our “part 2” blog.)


Yareni Lara-Rodríguez // Mechanical Engineering graduate student at University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez

Hispanic Heritage Month: Latina SWEsters, Part 3

Yareni is a curious, friendly, proactive, compassionate person; someone who loves science, nature, and music; a resilient and hard working person.

What is your current position?

I am in my third year of my doctoral studies in Mechanical Engineering, but my research is focus in bio engineering. 

What’s your first memory of wanting to pursue engineering?

I remember that I got interested in engineering because I had a specific interest in mathematics. But, after I finished my high school I started studying in the mechanical and electrical engineering college and I went to the orientation of manufacturing engineering. I always saw that an engineer’s job is to solve real problems, and that’s what I wanted to do. I had a Mentor (Professor) in my junior year who helped me to select the courses to orient my career as a manufacturing engineer.

What is a project or accomplishment that you are proud of?

After I finished my second master’s degree in Puerto Rico, I had the opportunity to work as Instructor for classes in engineering and bioengineering, and also to work in a biodevice manufacturing company. I am proud of these experiences which helped me to realize that I can apply my knowledge and experience in academia or industry. Another accomplishment of which I am proud is that since my sophomore year in college, I started my experience in research, with exposure in many different research areas, such as Materials Science, engineering of biomaterials, and later in molecular biology. These last 15 years have helped me to decide to pursue a doctoral degree in bioengineering. 

What is your philosophy in life?

I believe that a successful career is also composed of what is inside of you, your thoughts and what you do for others. Academic and industry experience are not enough without a sense of service to people and care of the environment. Considering the impact of my decisions on other people and nature is crucial when I am solving a situation or problem from the engineering perspective. And beyond that I apply this philosophy in my daily activities by saving energy, leading a healthy lifestyle, and minimizing my ecological footprint.

Tell us about your family… Who have been your strongest influences in life?

My family is composed of my four sisters and my Mother (after my father died when I was 12). When my older sister was studying her bachelor’s in chemical engineering, she was my inspiration. Seeing her every day, her dedication, her discipline and hard work, I always thought I wanted to be like her when I grew up. But, all the time, behind the motivation that my old sister had to work hard and achieve her goals, the support of my parents always was there for us. My parents always told us that if we want to achieve something in life, we need to work hard, and we will achieve our goals, emphasizing the fact that we can achieve them no matter if we are women, because we have the capacity.

What advice would you share with your younger self?

In order to achieve a goal in life, believe in yourself and that you are capable to reach it; that is the first step. Afterwards, set a plan to achieve and which could be the possible challenges, and visualize yourself in the plan and the time and effort it will take and look for help. Next, identify what do you need to accomplish the goals, by training, courses, workshops, readings, practice, learning a language, learning scientific writing, or anything else. Finally, look for mentors, friends and people that you can trust to advice you for the career that you want. 

Tell us how you first got involved in SWE. . . What was your first impression of SWE?

My first experience with SWE was at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) this year. I participated as a volunteer in the WOW! That’s engineering activity which was organized by SWE-UPRM. We presented to boys and girls from different ages a project related to engineering and bioengineering. I helped specifically in the group with girls from 10 to 13 years old. We explained them the different branches of engineering and its many applications. The girls built a hydraulic bridge with materials that we gave them and with their creativity and teamwork skills. We were all so excited with their designs! These kinds of activities expose girls to engineering problems and solutions in life, and they can use this information to decide the area they want to pursue in their career. My impression was that SWE-UPRM is a very organized association, and the activities they carry out help young women to expand their minds to explore and think critically about how engineering is around them and is used to solve daily problems.


Kirsten Hooper // Geotechnical Engineering intern at GeoEngineers, Inc.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Latina SWEsters, Part 3

Tell us about your family…

My family is a bit of an unorthodox Hispanic/Irish family. We are quirky, witty, and lots of fun. We are third generation Americans on my mother side. My family consists of my mother, Angela Gallagher, my father, Timothy Gallagher, my brother, Tim Drake, and my sisters Mekenna Hooper, Savannah Hooper, and Ava Gallagher. I am the eldest girl of 5 children ranging from 25 to 8 years old. We are a really close family despite the fact that we are currently spread-out across the continental United States with people in Philadelphia, Georgia, Colorado, California, and Washington. Our extended family resides in New Jersey and California. We are a military family as my dad is an active servicemember of the United States Air Force which is why we are so close. We have lived in many homes across the US and Germany, and often relied on each other’s strengths. As for professions, my mother is a fitness lifestyle coach and trainer. My father has held so many roles within the USAF and is currently a recruiter. My brother and my sister Savannah are entrepreneurs who decided to forgo college at the moment to chase their dreams as business owners, and my sister Mekenna just completed her master’s degree in accounting and finance management and is currently a working in the accounts payable department for a property management company. Ava is currently in the 3rd grade and wants to be a dancing Rockstar scientist (I think) in which she can dance ballet on the weekends, run experiments during the day, and do her shows at night! 

We had an atypical childhood growing up as we were constantly moving either schools in search of better opportunities or locations because of the USAF. Yet no matter where we ended up, we always got the famed question “What are you?”. Due to our diverse background, my siblings and I came out with different features from our cultural background which made it difficult to identify culturally in the traditional stereotypical way. We were too white (by upbringing and by appearance) to be considered Hispanic by our 2nd generation peers, yet we were too “of color” to be considered white by other peers. Thus, we were always in this weird limbo. No matter what others think or how they judge us, we are proud of our heritage and culture. 

What is your first memory of wanting to pursue engineering? 

Looking back on my childhood, I realize that I was always going in the right direction to be a civil engineer, but I didn’t know it yet. As a young kid, I loved drawing houses in crayons, building train sets, and playing with Lincoln Logs. I also played with Barbies, Bratz Dolls, and was determined to be a singer. In school, I really enjoyed math and science. The first memory that I can recall in which I learned about engineering happened in the 4th grade where we were tasked with building the longest and most stable bridge out of 30 straws and a foot of masking tape. My bridge ended up being the tallest as I decided to create an arc out of it to ensure that it did not hit the ground in the center. But it did not meet the criteria as it failed to be the longest. It was still a lot of fun.  I think the whole concept was put on by an organization called Odyssey to expose children to STEM programs. 

What is your current position?

Currently I am a Geotechnical Engineering intern at GeoEngineers, Inc., which is a geotechnical and environmental consulting company that operates in the Pacific Northwest, California, New Orleans, and some locations on the east coast. As an intern, my job is to be exposed to the many different projects that the company has and support the staff engineers during the busy construction season. In my role there seems to be no typical days as each day is unique and different. I currently spend 20% of my time in our soil laboratory running Atterburg tests, Liquid limit tests, and Sieve Analysis. 50% of my time is spent in the field either doing construction observation or site visits for the project managers and staff engineers. Because soil and subgrade can change relatively quickly, it is very typical for geotechnical engineers to be on site during construction of shoring walls and foundations in order to observe that the site conditions we predicted are true. We also do exploratory drilling in which we drill through the ground to determine the properties of the soil. The remaining 30% of my time consists of office work such as writing site survey memorandums for settlement during construction, researching, and contributing to Due Diligence reports that are used for real estate purposes, and contributing to Geotechnical Reports. I have loved every second of my current position! I see theories that I have learned in school in practice and had to use my engineering judgement. My position allowed me to see firsthand all that a geotechnical engineer does and now I am ready to go to grad school in order to be a geotechnical engineer!

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been with GeoEngineers for 10 weeks now. I started right after I graduated college with my bachelor’s in Civil Engineering. 

What motivates you to do what you do?

I think my biggest motivator is the fact that I am really enjoying my job. Geotechnical engineering is unique in the fact that most problems are one of a kind and that the site conditions are always changing. I get to use my critical thinking and problem solving daily, plus who doesn’t love being on construction sites and seeing the paper plans come to life! 

What is something about yourself that you are working to improve?

I am currently working on relaying on my intuition and judgement more in order to become a more confident engineer. I have been addressing this by trying to be exposed to all sorts of projects and problems that arise. I also have some pretty great mentors that are always willing to support me and answer any question that I have. 

How did you first get involved with SWE? 

I first heard about SWE during my college of science and engineering freshman orientation. There was a small presentation by some of the active members and they held an ice cream social with SHPE, NSBE, ASCE, ASME, and IEEE. From there, I attended their first meeting of the year. I was one of two freshmen there which was interesting, but I got to see all of these female engineers talk about their internships that they had the previous summer and I think that is the moment when I recognized that it is possible to be a strong female engineer. I had role models standing in front of me. From then on, I wanted to be involved with SWE and the support it brings. Sophomore year I decide to run for an officer position and became the outreach coordinator for the year. The next year I ended up the Vice President of my college’s chapter, and senior year I was the president of Seattle University’s chapter. I went from seeing the women in the front of the room my freshman year to becoming that role model for others. 

What is the best thing to happen since you became involved in SWE?

The support system and mentors from SWE have been some of the largest benefits from SWE. Yet the best thing has been the empowering feeling one gets when walking into the national conference and realizing that we are not alone. There are so many female engineers going through the same things that you are. That realization brought about power, comfort, and strength.  

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an engineer? 

Anyone who is thinking about engineering, I would recommend going for it! There is an engineer for just about everything. As long as you have passion and drive, you can do anything. The individual should not get bogged down with all the theory in school. Math is just a steppingstone to engineering. Engineering is no lone wolf sitting in a small office, there is so much more collaboration and teamwork. All personalities are needed in engineering. 

What is next for you in your work? 

In order to be a geotechnical engineering, I will need to obtain a master’s degree. I am currently looking at graduate school options and looking for a position as a field technician where I can obtain more experience until grad school. I am really looking forward to becoming a Geotechnical Engineer.


Claudia Galván // Technical Advisor at Early Stage Innovation

Hispanic Heritage Month: Latina SWEsters, Part 3

Claudia is a senior leader, someone who is focused on the good of the many especially passionate about women and minorities in STEM, who is continuously learning and not afraid of big challenges.

 Tell us about your family…

I come from a middle-class family in Mexico City, my parents were professionals, I was raised in an all-women household with my grandmother, my mom, and my sister. We all have been very independent women!

Who have been your strongest influences in life?

My Mom and Dad both were high level executives in Mexico, my grandmother who has a working mom and all my friends, managers and mentors. It takes a village!

What’s your first memory of wanting to pursue engineering?

When I talked with a volunteer who came to my High School Career Fair.

What has surprised you most about working in engineering?

The flexibility it provides to work around the world and the financial independence.

What do you find most challenging about being an engineer?

I love challenges it is a lot of work to be a working mom in engineering, it requires masterful time management skills.

What is a project or accomplishment that you are proud of?

Too many to list, I have worked and lived in three countries, I led the development of the first version of Oracle products that supported the Euro Symbol using Unicode. Developed the technical platform to support all languages and products at Adobe. Launched Microsoft Online services products in 48 languages and 165 markets, I have consulted with dozens of startups to launch their products in the international market, I have presented in conferences around the world. All this while studying my masters and doctorate degrees, volunteering and being a mom…I was awarded being one of the most influential women in Silicon Valley

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be where you are today?

Too many to list! Had to catch up with College level math, I am an immigrant, mom, over 40, Latina, ESL and visually impaired.

What do you wish other people knew about you?

I feel very fortunate to be in a place that I have been able to use my skills to have a global impact.

What is your philosophy in life?

Be Happy,  make a difference and think positive.

When your friends/family find out that you are an engineer, what do they say or ask?

Most people don’t think I am an engineer, much less someone who reached senior-level engineering positions in Silicon Valley.

What’s it like to be an engineer in your field?

Amazing! I love computer science, it is so diverse and you are always learning and creating new products.

What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?

I am an adrenaline junkie. I have completed triathlons, climbed the highest mountain in the continental US, gone skydiving, rock climbing, backpacking, you name it!

If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?

An astronaut if I had good vision…

What do you do when you aren’t working?

Finishing my doctorate degree, reading nonfiction, hiking, and volunteer work helping women and minorities.

What else can you tell us about yourself or your work?

After working in big companies in Silicon Valley I wanted to try the Startup scene, I have been consulting with startups helping productize their ideas developing business and technical strategies to launch their products into international markets. Most recently I work on global privacy.

What’s your current position?

As an independent consultant, I am a technical advisor working with CEOs and functional leaders in start-up companies to launch their products internationally.

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?

I love working on complex problems, taking crazy ideas and making them happen and working with super smart people that want to change the world.

What advice would you share with your younger self?

Find mentors early on, be patient, build a strong network.

What is something about yourself that you are working to improve? How?

Relaxing more by learning to saying ‘no.’

Tell me how us first got involved in SWE. . .

I was working in Microsoft and was invited to present at a SHPE/SWE event, I started volunteering and got hooked!

What’s the best thing to happen since you became involved in SWE?

Many of my mentees have continued with the engineering passion and have come back and thank me for my support.

If you could change one thing about SWE, what would it be?

Ensuring we are focused about our Vision and Mission and ensuring women remember is all about helping each other!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an engineer?

It a great path that provides amazing opportunities, but it is not for everybody.

What’s next for you in your work?  What are you looking forward to?

Finishing my doctorate degree!


Bianca McCartt // Engineer at GE Aviation

Hispanic Heritage Month: Latina SWEsters, Part 3

Bianca McCartt is a leader in Engineering at GE Aviation, where over the past 15 years she has contributed to the design of turbomachinery components, jet engine integration and the career growth of other engineers. She graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kentucky in 2003. She is outgoing, helpful and creative.

Can you give us a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?

For the past year I have been in a role that is focused on building the technical capabilities of GE Aviation’s Supply Chain division. I support hiring and development of new manufacturing engineers on our Technical Talent Development Program. I also work with our experienced engineers to grow the technical network and best practice sharing across our shops around the globe.

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?  

Helping other people. I was drawn to my current role in career development because it has a direct impact on my colleagues to grow their capabilities and career opportunities. I love being a coach and mentor to others, and also being part of the discovery process to help people find what they are looking for.

What’s your first memory of wanting to pursue engineering?

A visit from an engineering professor to my high school Calculus class in my Junior year was my first introduction to engineering. I remember thinking it sounded like such an interesting career and I was especially drawn to the creative design aspect.

What has surprised you most about working in engineering?

Often the best part of the job is solving problems. It feels like being a detective investigating a mystery. It is rewarding to find new information and make discoveries.

What do you find most challenging about being an engineer?

Overcoming the feeling that you don’t know enough yet to make a contribution. Engineering teaches you about complexity and the importance of iteration to find the best solutions. Every problem is complex, but you can accomplish a lot just by being curious and asking questions to those with experience in that space. It can be intimidating to come into a new area, but if you are willing to learn you might find you can even show the experts something new.

What is a project or accomplishment that you are proud of?

I worked on an automated system that uses an infrared camera to inspect the tiny cooling features on turbine airfoils for jet engines. I was awarded a patent for my work on this system and it’s now being used in our manufacturing shops to increase the efficiency of our inspection process.

Another project I worked on recently was the design of an acoustic dampening structure for the 67 MW aeroderivative engine, the LM9000. This was a unique design challenge to create a 48 inch diameter, 360° dual chamber broadband acoustic damper to limit the powerful acoustic response of a large dry-low emissions combustor. I developed a novel design to handle the thermal growth in the hot region in front of of the engine’s combustor chamber that minimized the complexity of the module assembly. While this part is hidden from view inside the engine, it has a significant impact on the operation of the machine as it dampens out what could otherwise be very damaging acoustic frequencies.

If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?

I think that I could have had a career in industrial design or architecture because I really get excited about the aesthetics of design. One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible because it teaches all about the hidden aspects of design in our everyday lives.

Tell us how you first got involved in SWE…

I went to a summer engineering experience at the University of Kentucky that was hosted by SWE. I was lucky enough to be at a table for lunch with the astronaut Joan Higgenbotham, and I was so inspired by her.

What’s the best thing to happen since you became involved in SWE?

All the awesome friends I have made! Just one example, through SWE I connected with Blanca Rosa Navarro in Costa Rica, who has become a wonderful friend to me. She connected me with the SWE Latinos Affinity Group (AG) that I now co-lead!

Tell us about your family…

My family is spread around the world. My mom was born in Wales and raised in South Africa and through her I have cousins in Australia, Ireland, England and Japan. She came to the USA when she was 17. My father was born in Costa Rica where his family has been since the 1600’s. He came to the USA at age 14. They both were pursuing careers with horses, and met when they were working together. They separated when I was very young and I was raised by my mother and stepdad with my younger half-sister. My father returned to Costa Rica, and when I was 35 I discovered that I have two half-siblings there. I have a brother who is 10 years younger and a sister 30 years younger. They have become a big part of my life and I learned to speak Spanish to build my relationship with them.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be where you are today?

Early in my career I had terrible stage fright. Through Toastmasters International I was able to overcome my fears and discover how much I enjoy public speaking. Now I readily sign up for speaking opportunities. I love the feeling of connecting with an audience and sharing ideas with them.

What is something about yourself that you are working to improve? How?

Recently I started taking improv courses to learn new strategies in listening and collaborating with others. It’s great fun as well as giving me new ideas to use at work.

What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?

I have a significant amount of knowledge about horses and also marine biology, particularly sharks. I grew up surrounded by horses and taught riding lessons from around age 9 until I was in my 20’s. About 8 years ago, I started scuba diving and fell in love with it and really got into learning about the marine life I was seeing. I can talk about these topics all day.

What is your philosophy in life?

Be curious, and try to learn something from everyone you meet.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

Read, write, make ceramic art, ride my horse in the woods, travel

What advice would you share with your younger self?

Worry less about what other people think.


Alma Lopez // Data Science Enthusiast

photograph of Alma Lopez

Alma Lopez is a computer engineer with a Master of Science in Data Science degree with 23 years experience in software development and consulting. Currently she is working at DIS Roche utilizing technology in data analysis to make easier personalized healthcare, responsible for the success of a cloud-based solution designed to handle digital pathology images, data collected in cancer immunotherapy trials, trying to balance social and personal life. 

Tell us about your family… 

I come from a hard working family in Mexico City, where I studied University and got a degree of Computer Engineer. I am the oldest of 4 daughters and after working 3 years in Mexico moved to California 20 years ago, married for 17 years with 2 wonderful very active boys 13 and 8 years old.

Who have been your strongest influences in life? 

My parents they taught me that family is very important, even though they only have basic  education they raised their daughters with strong academic commitment by giving priority to education supporting their 4 daughters to attend University in different disciplines including Engineering, Education, Business and Art. Also they are a great example of responsibility, honesty, reliability and courage among others. They are wonderful grandparents and teaching the same values to my kids. 

What’s your first memory of wanting to pursue engineering?

I remember when I was around 10 years old I was curious and decided to disassemble a watch to see how it works. I was amazed to see all the components and the interaction among them, I wasn’t able to put it back so I asked for help to my Dad, he just smiled and put it back. I was always curious reading and researching the reason for everything.

What has surprised you most about working in engineering?

All the different fields that a Computer Engineer can work and made a difference.

What do you find most challenging about being an engineer?

Working in a male-dominated field.

What is a project or accomplishment that you are proud of?

A migration from three different systems to one software application in telecommunications field that took many months, long working hours in different time zones, faced different problems and we were able to deliver a successful result; customer was so pleased that he promoted our services in the industry.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be where you are today?

I was laid-off from a company that I worked for many years, so gave me time to put myself in  perspective and realized that I had what it takes to compete with young engineers and utilize my experience to lead new generations to collaborate in finding a drug treatment in cancer immunotherapy faster.  

What do you wish other people knew about you?

I want to tell young engineers that is hard to have balance in personal and professional life but can be done, with support from your family, especially from your partner. So do your best to choose a life partner who supports your goals and is willing to do his job with family and household responsibilities. 

What is your philosophy in life?

You are the architect of your own destiny and treat everybody in the same way that you would like to be treated.

When your friends/family find out that you are an engineer, what do they say or ask?

They are proud, they are always supportive, and of course they asked for help in problems with their computer or laptops.

Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to work in engineering.

My Dad was a great influence, always solving problems and believing that a woman can do the same as a man. 

What’s it like to be an engineer in your field?

To be an engineer in my field is to find solutions to a problem, software integrations, collaborate, being a team player to reach a goal.

What might people be surprised to know about you?

I love to cook and dance latino rhythms like salsa, cumbia, merengue, etc. 

If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?

I wanted to be a biologist but I didn’t like chemistry. So I decided to study mathematics and physics—the base of engineering.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

Spending time with family and friends, I’m very social so weekends are always busy. Enjoying my family going to movies and travel.

What else can you tell us about yourself or your work?

After many years working for companies to help them to improve revenue, now I work in healthcare giving me the opportunity to use my skills and experience to use technology in cancer immunotherapy to allow personalized healthcare, doing now what patients need next.  

What’s your current position?

Technical Product Manager/Product Owner at DIS Roche.

How long have you been in this position?

9 months in current company and 5 years in previous company with the same role/responsibilities.

Can you give us a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?

I gather user requirements, translate them into use cases or functional stories for developers to estimate and later to implement them.nI’m involved in full life cycle of software development interacting with different teams involved in the projects like developers, data scientists, architects, usability experts and testers. We are working on a cloud-based solution designed to handle digital pathology images and bio-marker data collected in cancer immunotherapy trials across Roche Pharma.

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?

Patients affected with cancer motivates me to work on solutions for personalized healthcare and contribute in the research in cancer immunotherapy.

What are you most excited or passionate about?

Using technology to contribute to health care and my family.

What advice would you share with your younger self?

Read and travel as much as you can, even though I had the opportunity to travel to several countries I would be able to travel more. 

What is something about yourself that you are working to improve? How?

Taking care of myself. I often put first my kid’s needs and sometimes job responsibilities. So I need to exercise and take care of myself.

Tell us how you first got involved in SWE. . .

I got involved with SWE four years ago. I heard about it and registered as a member, and was amazed by all the information and support in the organization. I love it.

What was your first impression of SWE?

Great organization 

What’s the best thing to happen since you became involved in SWE?

The SWE local in San Jose, CA and be able to volunteer in programs to benefit young girls.

If you could change one thing about SWE, what would it be?

Promoting SWE in latino Universities.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an engineer?

It is worthwhile to study this field, enjoy it. University experience was great for me, I made great friends and we support each other. 

What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to grow in the company in leading positions and continue with my contribution in healthcare personalized solutions.


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