The third day of Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week at The University of Texas-Pan American was set aside for Rio Grande Valley mothers and daughters with a goal of creating a bond between them and encouraging them to dream big.
Latinas in Science, Math, Engineering and Technology Day was held at the UTPA Fieldhouse Sept. 28 as one of many events during the weeklong HESTEC. Sponsors for Latina's Day included ExxonMobil, Verizon and the U.S. Navy.
Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president, welcomed the audience to the event and asked the mothers and daughters to raise and hold hands to show their support and love for each other just as she often raises her hand in the air in tribute to her late mother, Amelia.
"The most powerful person in the world is not the president of the United States and it's not the Queen of England. The most powerful person in the world is your mother. Our mothers change a family and transform lives. Let me tell you a mother has one job and that is to love with intelligence and with strength because our children are going to face enormous challenges and opportunities," Cárdenas said.
"I look around this room and I don't know your story, but we all have a story and that adds to richness of who we are in the community and it adds to the richness of what America is as a country," she said to the audience.
She encouraged the mothers to dream big for themselves and their daughters just as her mother did.
"I want to challenge you to continue like my mom and the moms in this room to dream and to dream big. Dream bigger than you can imagine with the help of others and the resources in this community. Don't let the labels and don't let the world define you. Define yourself," she said.
Yrizarry stressed to mothers that it was important to give their daughters the opportunity to get a higher education, even if it means they have to leave home to do it. She also told the young female students to be conscious of their images.
"You have an image that you project. Let's watch what we wear, I have to say that here very honestly. We really have to do something about that. Image builds reputations," Yrizarry said.
During the event, Yrizarry, who has been with Verizon for 15 years, was awarded the UTPA Foundation HESTEC Latina Pioneer Award for her outstanding achievement in contributing to the advancement of Latina education throughout the nation.
Another speaker highlighting Latinas Day was Diane D. Rath, chair and commissioner representing the public for the Texas Workforce Commission. She opened the day's events by telling mothers and their daughters to be smart, bold and strong throughout their lives.
"We have to encourage girls of all ages to dream big, to challenge themselves and make good choices," Rath said.
She told students to study math and science and not be afraid to try something new because in the end it may be something that interests them and could lead to a career as an engineer.
"You make a living by what you get and you make a life by what you live," she said.
The morning session featured an executive panel session with ExxonMobil representatives including Monica Saenz, GIS Mapping and CAAD team coordinator; Mayela Quezada, safety, training and recruiting coordinator; and Irene Garcia, an environmental regulatory advisor. All three ExxonMobil employees told students "engineers turn visions into a reality."
"Our goal is to get you to think of a career in engineering and to encourage you to pursue a higher education and to find what you want to do at this point if you have the desire and passion for it," Saenz said.
Saenz told the all-female audience an engineer out of college starts at a salary of $60-65,000 a year.
"Engineering is a rewarding career choice because it has one of the highest pays in salaries," Saenz said. "Some salaries have doubled in the last 20 years. The salary growth and advancements is unlimited (in engineering)."
Latinas Day provided participants with the chance to hear from and meet UTPA alumni, who currently work as engineers at top companies, during several panel discussions held throughout the day on campus.
As a Mission, Texas native and graduate of UTPA, Sonya Galan offered insight into what companies look for when hiring employees, while serving as a moderator for one panel session where mothers and daughters learned that being a Latina is an asset in today's workplace.
"What they look for in you is desire, ambition and the drive to succeed," Galan, who is the finance leadership development manager for Texas Instruments (TI) and responsible for recruiting, hiring and internship opportunities at TI.
She also encouraged the young women in the audience to not be intimidated by careers in math, science and engineering.
"Women, in general, will pursue careers in areas that are more comfortable to them - the areas that they see other females pursue. But, the math and science fields are so critical to our future and are even more important for Hispanics and women," she said.
Galan also shared practical interviewing advice with students and said most interviewers look more favorably toward candidates who exude confidence and poise when they walk into a room.
Alma Martinez Fallon, hull structural construction superintendent for the CVN-21 Program at Northrop Grumman, leads the project management, design, building and assembly for the next generation aircraft carrier - the CVN-21, a ship which takes 15 years to complete.
Fallon, who was the first in her family to get a college degree, shared some advantages of being an engineer with the audience, including salary and the positive contributions you can make as one.
"Engineers are enablers and we make things easier and better for our communities and we make a difference," she said. "We take concepts and bring them to reality and create products such as telephones, lights, ships and airplanes."
She also had a specific message for the mothers. "The mother is the center of the family," she said. "I'm so encouraged to see you here. That really shows the support you have for your daughters." Mothers and daughters also got the opportunity to hear from Lorna Muñiz Farr, manager of Hispanic advertising and marketing for H-E-B. Born on an air force base in California, Farr spent her childhood living in various countries such as Spain and Venezuela, as well as Puerto Rico and the United States, which she said enriched her understanding of different cultures and taught her to appreciate being a Latina.
"I can't emphasize enough how important it is to preserve your Spanish," Farr said. "That is going to give you a huge advantage over a lot of people when you go into your careers. If you are bilingual, that makes you key to any company."
She also explained the importance of being proactive and taking initiative to ensure personal success.
"Do what you can to make things happen for yourself. Sometimes you will run into obstacles in life, but the people who succeed are the people who don't wait for doors to open automatically - they make it happen," she said.
Moderated by Sylvia Godoy, systems engineering senior manager at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, the panel included Veronica Serrato, quality assurance engineer, Harlingen; Lisa Pelache, manufacturing engineer, Harlingen; and Norma (Bonnie) Rodriguez, manufacturing engineer associate, Fort Worth.
As they shared stories of their backgrounds, experiences and advice for those interested in becoming engineers, the recurring message was not to let challenges overcome a desire to pursue a higher education.
Godoy, one of nine children, said as a child she accompanied her parents as they cleaned a construction company's offices, and would sit in a chair at the biggest desk and pretend she had the most important job there, dreaming of the day she could help her parents financially.
"I realized that the only way to make my dream come true was to get the best education possible," she said. Godoy said while in school she participated in math organizations and competitions, stayed conscientious about her homework, and took advantage of opportunities, such as a work-study job, to help her achieve her goal. A 30-year employee at Lockheed Martin, she said she was able to help her family, noting with pride the day she was able to buy her mother a clothes dryer.
Serrato, a native of Mexico who obtained her bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1998 and a master's degree in manufacturing engineering in 2002, said both her parents had died at an early age and she came to the United States at 12 years old, unable to speak English, and lived with a family friend. She gained support in school from some of her teachers who recognized early on her abilities in math and science.
"One of my teachers told me 'it would be a waste of a mind for you not to go to college.' I always kept that in mind," she said.
Upon high school graduation, despite her excellent grades, her counselors did not recommend she go to college because they saw her as "high risk" or more likely to drop out because she was from Mexico and lacked parental support. However, determined to pursue a secure career her mother had talked to her about it as a young child, she worked her way through college with the support of her husband, who is also an engineer.
"Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do what you have in your plans. You go for it, you can do it. If you have your parents they will be your support. I did it without them but in my mind they were always there," she said.
Pelache said her high school counselor told her she should forget college because she was Hispanic and a female. However, her mother encouraged her to go to TSTI (now TSTC) where an aptitude test told her she was good in math and science. After obtaining an associate's degree in drafting and design, Pelache took a job in Dallas.
"Leaving home was the hardest thing for me to do and I wanted to come home. My mother said no," she said.
After working for six years, Pelache decided she wanted to go further in her career. She returned to the area and obtained her bachelor's degree in 2001 in mechanical engineering and was subsequently hired by Lockheed Martin, where she now works on the Atlas rocket.
"Fortunately, I had my mother who did not listen to my counselor and did not listen to me when I wanted to come home," she said.
Graduating in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering, Rodriguez, the youngest panelist, said her greatest challenge in pursuing her career was also overcoming her fear to leave home and the Valley. When offered a six-month internship at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, she did not want to go.
"But here comes my mom who says, 'you can do it.' She said she would go and stay with me a whole month," she said, noting that the internship helped her learn how to be independent and what she would be doing as an engineer.
Responding to questions from students and their mothers following the presentations, the panelists faced questions from how to choose what field of engineering to enter to what kind of salary a beginning engineer makes. The panelist did have some specific suggestions to help young students in pursuing and being successful in an engineering career.
The panelists encouraged students to fine tune their math skills, particularly their understanding of all the concepts of lower math; participate in activities that will offer opportunities to work on teams; and to develop their communication skills - both oral and written.
"I found the one thing I was lacking was my communication skills. My idea of an engineer when I first started actually was that I would sit behind a desk and not really have to talk to anyone. I was very wrong," Pelache said.
Also discussing the issue of being a female in an engineering career, Pelache said one reason she wanted to come to HESTEC on Latinas Day was that it was directed at girls and their mothers. "I wanted them to know that math, science and engineering is not out of their reach, which a lot of young women do believe. They think it is a man's field. There are a lot of girls that are very good in math and science and I want them to realize that engineering is a very good opportunity for them," she said.
"I really liked the way they gave the experiences of how they got where they are to motivate the children," she said.
Attending with her mother Karen Sanchez, Renee Sanchez, a senior at Weslaco East High School, said listening to the presentation helped reaffirm her desire to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering with the hopes of working for Lockheed Martin one day. Her mother, a teacher in the Monte Alto ISD, said it helped her to accept her daughter's possible move from home to pursue her dreams.
"To hear them say it, helped reinforce to me that I have to let her go where the opportunity is," she said tearfully.
Irma Garza, a mother who attended Latinas Day with her daughter - a senior from P.S.J.A High School, said she enjoyed everything the day had to offer and was inspired by each of speakers. "I've learned a lot today and it really inspires me to want to come back to school," she said.
As a mother of four daughters ranging in age from one to 17, Garza said she knew both she and her daughter learned a lot and valued the opportunity to hear such motivational speakers. "This helped me because I'm hearing things that I'm going to take back home and talk to my girls about," she said.