In order to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the SWE Latinos Affinity Group would like to share the experiences of Latinas in STEM. All month long, we will feature Latina and Hispanic women who are STEM professionals that showcase SWEs values for furthering the involvement of women and girls in STEM. Keep reading to meet some of these phenomenal women!
Olga D. González-Sanabria is currently the President and co-owner of her own company. Previously, she served as a Senior Executive with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Her government service spanned over 32 years. She retired as Director of Engineering at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where she was responsible for planning, organizing, and directing a full range of integrated services including engineering design and development, fabrication, systems engineering and integration, and systems analysis, including managing all necessary contracts to perform these functions.
When did your interest in STEM begin, and how did you nurture it?
I always loved math and science, however my interests in STEM really started with a career day field trip to the university in my senior year. Prior to this I did not know what an engineer was or what it did and listening to the talks it felt as if my wings were unfurling for me and I instantly knew that was what I wanted to be. To me it was important that young people learn about it and other careers in STEM as soon as possible so they could make appropriate choices for their education and ultimately their life.
What challenges have you faced (as a woman, as Latinx, as first-gen, or any other situation that fits you) to get where you are today?
I believe the greatest challenge I faced as a woman was being heard. I found that in a work setting the voices of women are ignored creating a lot of frustration. I learned to communicate through others in order to be able to contribute to the mission. Also the need to prove yourself over and over again was an issue that I had to manage and have patience. Understand that different standards are applied depending on the person and although not fair, learning to manage these situations is critical for success.
Are there any groups, people, organizations, or institutions that you have found that best support you and your success as a Latina in STEM? How did you find them?
In my experience the best groups are those that organize to provide support to those in need. For example, when I started working at NASA there was a group that had arrived before me and they provided room and board, transportation and shared their experiences with me to help me succeed. I can not emphasize how important was this for my success. In addition there are some organizations such as GmiS, SWE, SHPE that provided support, education, encouragement and contacts that facilitated my career development.
In what ways have you used your role as a woman in STEM to encourage young women and girls into STEM?
I have mentored young and professional women so that they can at least understand the challenges they will face and how to deal with them. I participated in career fairs, conferences, recruitment, community activities, etc. to provide women with a visible role model that attest to them being able to achieve what they want.
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Be more assertive, document your progress and achievements. It will help you as you move up the ladder and remind you that you are contributing to the mission.
What advice do you have for SWE members to help support the younger generation of women and girls looking to pursue STEM careers?
Organize to support the physical necessities of your members such as where to stay and where to get resources (books, rooms, transportation, study groups, grants, etc.) and to provide experience based support.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Remember we are all unique. What works for one does not work for all and you are your worst critic. I also like to say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity so always be prepared and believe in yourself.