Personal stories by top women in education, corporate America, government and the military, and the message to "always remember where you come from and be proud of it" highlighted The University of Texas-Pan American's Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Latinas Day Wednesday, Sept. 24.
More than 1,000 young Latinas and their mothers attended the third day of HESTEC Week, which continues through Saturday, Sept. 27, to hear inspiring stories from successful females in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Latinas Day is solely dedicated to bringing mothers and daughters to campus to motivate them to start thinking that a higher education is attainable no matter the background or age.
Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president, opened the day by sharing with the audience her journey of struggle and success. Through photos and incredible storytelling, Cárdenas told how she did not grow up wealthy, but was rich in family, love and knowledge. Cárdenas, who admitted she does not like to reveal too many details about her life, thought it was important to share the stories of her grandmother, Felicitas Martinez, and her mother, Amelia Cárdenas, who were the inspirations in her life to become the woman she is today.
She asked the young ladies in the audience to go home today and ask the females in their families to tell them the story of their lives.
"If you don't know your grandmother's story ask her because I find strength from my grandmother's story, and it is my grandmother's story of how she overcame that gives me the strength to keep on going," Cárdenas said. "So young girls ask your grandmothers, mothers and aunts about their stories, know it and put it into your heart and let it be the source of your strength."
Cárdenas said thanks to the support of her parents she believed there was nothing she could not accomplish and was ready to conquer the world. So she asked the mothers and few fathers in the audience to believe in their children as her parents believed in her.
"I tell you this story of myself not to talk about myself, but to tell you that with the passion and the love of a mother and the dedication of a father you can shape the future for your children. You can help them to believe in themselves. You can say to them 'I will not take no for an answer, you are going to college.' In my house it was not if you were going to go to college, it was where were you going to college," Cárdenas said.
For Magda N. Yrizarry, vice president for Workplace Culture, Diversity and Compliance at Verizon Communications, attending Latinas Day has become an annual event. She has participated in HESTEC since 2005 and has shared her personal story and advice with thousands of young Latinas and their mothers.
Yrizarry discussed how Verizon is a company that "keeps people connected in meaningful ways." She is part of a group of 240,000 employees responsible for $100 billion of revenue.
"You are part of the information age where things are happening faster than they have ever happened before and you are here to think about careers in engineering, math and the sciences that will take us to places that we have yet not thought about ... You will create the next generation of communication," she said.
During her speech, Yrizarry asked the young ladies what it meant to be a woman today and tomorrow. Her answer to them was they had choices, a luxury many women did not have years ago.
"You have choices my mom did not have, I have choices that my mom did not have," she said. "So remember where you come from and decide where are you going."
She asked the Latinas Day participants to not be afraid of dreaming big or afraid of failure and change. Most of all, she told them to never believe that they are not good enough.
"Dream bigger than your parents have been able to dream and dream bigger than you are dreaming today. Look at who came ahead of you in your families and be your very best," Yrizarry said.
During the eight captivating breakout sessions held during Latinas Day, mother-daughter teams from throughout South Texas had the opportunity to hear inspiring stories from women in successful careers ranging from the U.S. Navy and ExxonMobil, to Boeing and Raytheon, among others.
Yvonne Adams, a reservoir engineer for Marathon Oil Corporation and breakout session participant for Latinas Day, told the students and their mothers that she started her career with Marathon by participating in paid student internships while in college, which afforded her the opportunity to visit several different states including Alaska.
"I could never imagine going to these places, but my company gave me the opportunity to do so," Adams said. "The sky's the limit and you can really do anything!"
Adams told the participants and their mothers that family has always been high on her list of values.
Michelle Quiroz, an industrial engineer for Motorola, Inc. and UTPA graduate, talked to the girls and their mothers about her experience while at the University and the opportunities available to her.
"At first my mom just thought I was going to marry a man and not go to college. She didn't expect me to go to college, but I enjoyed the challenge that engineering offered," Quiroz said. "My first semester of college, I made my parents come on campus and their eyes opened up to the opportunities that were available and then they were very supportive of me."
Quiroz said companies who provide flexible schedules for employees who want to raise families while pursuing a career also make being a working woman in corporate America possible.
"Companies really make an effort to help you balance your work and home life. There are a lot of programs available through our company and we even have a psychologist on site if any employee needs assistance," Quiroz said.
Mary Garcia, who attended with her daughter Elizabeth Garcia, a sophomore at Nikki Rowe High School, said she was in awe of the women who presented during the breakout session.
"They are just impressive given the number of women in the engineering industry," Mary said. "Engineering is a field where they can branch out and be in just about anything and I want that for my daughter."
Mary said since her daughter is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, she knows that career path requires a lot of rigorous courses like math and science.
"I want my daughter to realize that it is hard getting there, but once you are there, the rewards are awesome," she said.
Elizabeth said she really liked the breakout session and hearing from women with similar backgrounds.
"I enjoyed hearing from people who are like our family and who had the same experiences we do," Elizabeth said. "They are successful and it makes me think that I can do it too ... that we can all do it."
Latinas Day ended with an inspiring lunchtime presentation by Laura Gump, H-E-B regional vice president/general manager for the border region.
Gump, who has a bachelor's in business administration from The University of Texas at El Paso and a master's in international business from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, began her H-E-B career as a store management trainee in Corpus Christi. Over the years she has served in positions of increasing responsibility with H-E-B and in 2007 was named the first female regional vice president in the 107-year history of H-E-B. In her current position, Gump is responsible for the operations of 47 stores located in the Valley and the southwest portion of the state and oversees more than 9,000 employees.
A daughter of parents from Mexico who came to the border town of El Paso to find a better life for their children, Gump said her mother stressed the importance of getting an education. However, in high school she said was an average student more motivated by "wanting to be with her friends" and "having a good time." She offered a strong message on the opportunities for Latinas with an education.
"The opportunity for Latinas today is better than it has ever been. Never has it been cooler to be a Latina than today. And to be an intelligent Latina - that is way too cool. Does it take hard work - yes. Does it take dedication and focus - yes. Does it take sacrificing the things you want to do for fun today - yes. Does it take telling your friends sometimes that 'I can't go out tonight because I have to study' - yes. When you graduate from college the opportunities are endless," she said.
She challenged the students to start thinking about what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.
"Pick a career that you are going to love doing," she said, noting she enjoyed leading and being able to influence people.
In responses to a wide range of questions from the students, Gump described her start from a trainee, the experience of working in the many different H-E-B store departments and her transition to district-level leadership.
"I never thought I could be a district manager. I think people believed in me more than I believed in myself. A lot of times we talk ourselves out of opportunities. We think we can't do it. I tell you to take a risk. And you also have to be able to change or you are not going to grow," she said.
As a wife and a mother, she said it is tough to balance those roles with your professional job.
"You have to learn to be a multitasker and manage your time," she said.
HESTEC 2008 continues Thursday, Sept. 25 with Robotics Day, a day when middle and high school students compete in robotics and Microsoft competitions.
For more information on HESTEC 2008 visit http://www.hestec.org/ or call 956/381-3361.