Many women who work in engineering continue to find they are the only female in the room. According to studies conducted by the Society of Women Engineers, only 13 percent of engineers in the workforce are women.
With a mission to empower current female engineering and computing students and close the gender gap, FIU’s Center for Diversity and Student Success in the College of Engineering & Computing (CEC) hosted the Women in Engineering, Academics, and the Corporate World virtual panel in March.
Sponsored by the Motorola Solutions Foundation, three FIU alumni participated in the panel, answering questions on topics like dealing with imposter syndrome, success in graduate school, leadership strategies and the importance of self-care and wellness. Although the panel was directed at women, many male students also attended the hour-long event.
One of the speakers on the panel was Denisse Aranda, a mechanical engineering alumna. Aranda started her career at NASA where she worked for eight years. She then joined the space company Blue Origin, where she works as a principal contamination control engineer.
In this role, Aranda’s responsibility is to protect what is being delivered into space. She ensures no materials native to Earth – think fingerprints, dust, grease – remain on the payload section of a launch vehicle, along with making sure materials can sustain extreme temperatures.
A firm believer in paying it forward and giving back to the next generation of engineers, Aranda echoed the issues raised on the panel.
“There’s a lack of female representation in engineering,” she said. “But it’s on us to change that.”
Aranda empowers women in her life in many ways. As a consultant for Science Camps of America, a nonprofit organization that hosts an annual educational camp in Hawaii, she creates opportunities in a safe space for young girls to take that first step – whether it’s their first time speaking in public or using a power tool.
In her professional environment, she asks questions in meetings directed to her female colleagues.
“I encourage women to be more intentional, not take failure personally, and stop trying to be perfectionists. When you’re in school, perfectionism is rewarded, but that doesn’t necessarily translate in the workforce,” added Aranda. “It’s also on men to create an inclusive environment, where women feel empowered and welcomed to contribute.”
Another mechanical engineering alumna, Blanca Jordan, participated in the panel sharing with students how her degree from FIU and her MBA from Babson College gave her a competitive edge in the workforce.
Jordan’s career journey started at Johnson & Johnson, where she was promoted from a supervisor to a business unit manager, assuming cross-functional responsibility for multiple manufacturing departments within a medical device manufacturing plant. She then took her talents to Abbott Laboratories/AbbVie, where she grew into leadership roles in engineering and manufacturing, ultimately leading a pharmaceutical operation of more than 700 employees.
With her family’s support, Jordan, her husband and two kids moved back to Florida, where she returned to Johnson & Johnson. She leads a contact lens manufacturing plant, ensuring her team of 1,200 employees is sustaining the supply of their product through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite successes, Jordan also faced gender-specific barriers and overcame them.
“Some challenges were physical, like needing a nursing room post-pregnancy,” said Jordan. “But then there were challenges like being able to speak up when there are so many loud voices. In the midst of it all, I found my voice.”
Jordan’s main message throughout the panel was for students to be authentic and be themselves.
“When you’re authentic, you attract and inspire people,” she said.
The final panelist lives to inspire others. Emmanuela Stanislaus, associate director of FIU’s Career & Talent Development at the CEC, recently graduated from FIU with her doctoral degree in higher education, making her a two-time FIU alumna.
Stanislaus shared with students how imposter syndrome is real for a Ph.D. student.
“It's about recognizing that we should push back on the spaces that make us feel inadequate since there is something inherently wrong with the space, not us, and also finding creative outlets to cope with the feeling.
“As a multi-passionate person, I tell students they can carve their own paths and do other things besides the job they are doing,” said Stanislaus, who in addition to supporting and helping engineering and computing students develop career confidence, is an entrepreneur and education podcaster.
“I started a consulting business for women of color, helping them get inspired to pursue or complete a doctoral degree,” she added.
Stanislaus also hosts a podcast called Writing on my Mind, where she and guest speakers discuss topics like challenges students from minority populations face and the value of mentorship and community.
FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing spearheads the Women of CEC initiative, providing opportunities and services to female faculty and students – a growing force in the field.