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Inspiring more Diversity in STEM

Stories from Latinx Members Creating Change
Latinas in Space - Latinas

From teaching kids how to code, to helping students graduate without college debt, there are many Latinx who are doing incredible things to bring more diversity into STEM. Thanks to their work, they are helping our Hispanic community be exposed to role models and follow these careers.

We hope their stories are inspiring:

Meet Zaira Cruz (she/her)

Zaira Cruz headshot for article about Latinas in STEM

She is a first-generation Latina senior software engineer currently working in telecommunications and AI at General Motors. Zaira is originally from Mexico.

After being briefly introduced to computer science in high school, she went on to pursue engineering as a major in college and saw firsthand the disparity that exists within STEM. To pay for college, she joined a company that taught kids how to code, and she soon grew a passion to advocate not only for more female figures within technology but also Latinos in general.

Zaira founded LatinXCoders to help empower kids with the tech skills needed so that they have a better chance at reaching their goals. LatinXCoders not only advocates for kids, but for parents as well, to understand the impact that these skills can have in their kids’ future. Zaira is passionate not only to keep sharing this knowledge but also in mentoring the next generation of engineers.

What inspired you to create LatinXCoders?

I come from a family that always cultivated in me the importance of education, but who didn’t know about programming, and much less majoring in it.

However, during college I worked at a company that taught kids how to code. I taught kids as young as 6 years old. One thing that I noticed all the students shared here was that at least one of their parents was involved in engineering as a profession. I also noticed that these courses, although valuable, were expensive for an average family. And furthermore, that there was little to no minority representation.

All of this inspired me to question, why not minorities? Why not average families whose parents might not be engineers but who also understand the importance of education? And so, LatinxCoders was born. Amidst a pandemic and after having worked in the field for 2 years, I launched a web platform whose mission is to raise awareness and share this knowledge.

Why do you think it’s important to see more Latinas in engineering and STEM?

Diversity within any field is important as it integrates different perspectives among people from different backgrounds. But diversity and specifically female minorities participation is important as both engineering and STEM are tools that are shaping our world daily. The Student Research Foundation found that Hispanic women represented 7% of the total workforce, but just 2% of STEM workers in 2018. And we have to understand, our perspectives as Latinas are necessary now, not only to help open the doors for the future generation, but also to have a say in how this technology affects our communities, and because our talent and experiences have so much untapped value within innovation.

You can learn more about LatinXCoders here.

Next, we would like to introduce Michelle Tovar-Mora (she/her)

Michelle Tovar-Mora headshot for article on Latinas in STEMMichelle is a first-generation Latina college graduate currently working as a Mechanical Engineer in the Power Sector. She earned a Bachelors and Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering from California State University, Los Angeles.

She is passionate about her career and hopes to inspire more women and Latinos to join the STEM fields by sharing her personal experience. She also motivates women to not be scared of building a family while building their careers.

“We don’t have to choose between motherhood and our careers; we can be both, mothers and career-driven women.”

What inspired you to choose engineering as your career path?

If you saw my career roadmap, one would automatically assume that I’ve always had it all figured out and I knew I wanted to be an engineer since I was little. The truth lies far from that.

Growing up in a low-income community I didn’t have access to many resources, and quite frankly I didn’t even know what engineering was until I got to Cal State LA. After getting involved with various student organizations such as SWE and SHPE, I got exposed to different engineering disciplines which sparked my curiosity in engineering.

Not knowing a single engineer growing up and being the first of my family to attend college made this journey quite difficult but not impossible.

Why do you think it is important to see more Latinas in STEM & engineering? 

According to Pew Research Center, despite Hispanics making up to 17% of the total workforce, only 8% of Hispanics are in the STEM fields, and ONLY 3% of these are females in STEM. It should no longer be a rarity to be a Latino in STEM let alone a Latina woman in STEM.

It is important to see more Latinas in engineering and STEM so our future generations understand that they too can be the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians. We are their biggest role models, and if you can see it, you can be it.

To learn more about Michelle, visit her social media here.

If you are a college student or know someone who is a senior in high school getting ready to go to college, this next story is going to be fantastic for you!

Meet María Fernanda Trochimezuk (she/her) – Founder and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer at IOScholarships

María Fernanda Trochimezuk headshot for article about Latinas in STEM

María Fernanda Trochimezuk is passionate about making diversity a norm as she advocates for the empowerment of underrepresented STEM students from racially, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

As the founder of IOScholarships, she is committed to building the diverse and inclusive STEM workforce the world needs by matching undergraduate and graduate students with life-changing scholarships and internship opportunities.

 Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she arrived to UCSB and won a scholarship to continue pursuing her education. Since then, she has devoted her energy to helping more underserved students find free money to go to college.

She graduated from Universidad del Salvador, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations. Additionally, she was selected on a national level to be part of the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Program.

Maria shared with us what inspired her to create IOScholarships:

IOScholarships isn’t just a business, it is my passion. During my educational journey, I won over $250,000 in scholarships, so I want to help more underrepresented students find free money to go to college and work for high-growth tech companies.

I created IOScholarships after noticing the amount of scholarship money that went unrewarded due to the lack of applicants.  Over the last decade, the number of scholarships awarded to students has increased by 45 percent. Yet, the NSPA estimates $100 million in scholarships go unawarded each year due to the lack of applicants.

The free platform gives STEM students in high school and college a place to find scholarships, internships, work opportunities, financial education and resources based upon ethnic background, GPA, merit, and financial background. The aim is to help students graduate college debt-free while boosting the number of Latinas and other students of color pursuing STEM degrees and careers.

Why do you think it is important to see more Latinas in engineering and STEM?

It is important to level the playing field so all diverse students can go to college and pursue these careers that are the highest paying careers in the market. I always had a vision that I wanted to create a platform that would be a community for Latinas and other diverse students in STEM, and IOScholarships is the gateway for Latinas to be part of the STEM pipeline.

You can find out more about IOScholarships on their website here.

Our next inspiring story comes from Sandra Torres (she/her) – a Biotech and Pharma Executive

Sandra Torres headshot for article about Latinas in STEM

Sandra is a born and raised Chicagoan, to Latin American parents (Mexico and El Salvador), and is the eldest of three. She attended Lincoln Park High School in Chicago, completing the IB program curriculum and graduating with dual degrees.

She went on to earn her undergraduate degree in Biology at Grinnell College, and started her career as an application scientist after graduation, providing technical support for microbiology based technologies. She progressed into sales and business development roles in biotech and pharma for the next eleven years, with increasing responsibilities and supervisory roles.

She recently went back to school to earn her MBA from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business and began the next phase of her career as a product manager for Western Digital, a leading global data storage solutions company, supporting multiple industries such as aerospace, enterprise businesses, and consumer solutions. 

What inspired you to choose STEM as your career path?

I didn’t master English until about middle school, as I grew up almost exclusively hearing Spanish, so math and science were easier for me to pick up as a kid because there was less of a language barrier, and I just had a natural curiosity for it.

I was able to learn and flex my problem-solving skills in settings that were encouraging and supportive, focusing more on the journey than the actual solution, mostly via educational and social programs at my local libraries. They were places that didn’t require me to spend any money, and I could have access to as much knowledge as I wanted, leveling the playing field.

These programs helped me learn that even when experiments “failed,” there was always something to learn and the effort was never “for nothing.” This was a critical lesson to learn early on, as it allowed me to be more proactive and adaptable as I navigated my own personal career path, and motivated me to pursue fields where the goal is to come up with solutions that haven’t been done before, to very complex problems.

Why do you think it is important to see more Latinas in STEM and engineering?

The short answer: to make all these possibilities and options visible, and to provide a roadmap on how to get there.

The long answer: I didn’t know of the vast amount of career options available in engineering and STEM fields outside of academia until pretty late in my college career, and even then, I didn’t find out what kind of education/training/certifications were required for these kinds of jobs until I actually started working in these industries.

Despite having been in “gifted” educational programs, I wasn’t really told or exposed to how to get the right training or get recruited into roles in my early career (rotational programs, internships, recommendations for admissions to programs, internal referrals for jobs, etc.), so transparency is crucial for equitable access to these careers that can have life changing financial implications for many.

The unwritten rules are hard to learn under normal circumstances, and it’s harder to learn if you’re seen as an outsider. More Latinas = less of an outsider, more transparency. Affiliate groups like SWE, Women in Bio, and Latinas in Tech are great places to start if your own academic/professional circles are not fueling you the way you need them to. 

Not all paths into STEM are straightforward. 

This is why we wanted to close this post featuring Liza Crystabel Rangel (she/her/hers/ella)

Liza Crystabel Rangel headshot for article about Latinas in STEMMy name is Crystabel, and I am a daughter of Mexican immigrants. I am a self-taught product manager at a small web design and development company. My career has been an evolution of pursuing challenges and opportunities for growth. From Behavioral therapy to Localization/Translation to the Tech Industry.

After spending several years in the localization industry without much growth, I quit my job and enrolled in a coding Bootcamp so I could transition into tech as a technical project manager. I was extremely nervous about making this career change because I knew it was a male-dominated industry. Still, I pursued a career in STEM for the continuous opportunity to learn and grow. 

When I think of the role that technology plays in the advancement of providing solutions, I am invigorated by the limitless possibilities. However, having Latinas represented in STEM is crucial to have our voices heard because our needs and opinions matter to help our people and communities in need.

We are looking forward to continuing to highlight more Latinx stories during Hispanic Heritage Month. Stay tuned!

Author: Lennis Perez (she/her) MS Chemical Engineering


  • SWE Blog

    SWE Blog provides up-to-date information and news about the Society and how our members are making a difference every day. You’ll find stories about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics.

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  • Lennis Perez (she/her) MS Chemical Engineering

    Lennis is a wellness engineer, international public speaker, certified meditation teacher, coach, and also certified in plant-based nutrition. She has a Masters in Chemical Engineering. During her 16 years working in the chemical  industry, she experienced first hand the high stress and high demand STEM careers put on individuals. Through her talks, events, and mentoring work, she is teaching professionals in STEM stress management and burnout prevention tools so they can have more impact, fulfillment and joy in their day to day lives.

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