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Engineering alumna Dani Rojas receives national honor for her work
Dani Rojas receives congratulations from her brother, Samuel, and sister, Valentina, upon her graduation from FIU in 2018.

Engineering alumna Dani Rojas receives national honor for her work

December 21, 2022 at 11:45am

By Adrienne Sylver

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dani Rojas was under tremendous pressure at work. The young Abbott Laboratories engineer was charged with keeping the company’s COVID diagnostic equipment up and running 24/7.

As the subject matter expert on the equipment, anytime it went down, she was called. “It didn’t matter if it was 3 a.m., I was there,” she said. “I had T-minus two hours to fix whatever was wrong or the CEO would be notified.”

Rojas, 29, who graduated from FIU in 2018 with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the College of Engineering and Computing, recently received the Outstanding Achievement Award in the Technology Rising Star category at the annual Women of Color STEM conference. The awards showcase excellence and innovation and the under-representation of diverse women in scientific and technical fields.

“The industry is still very male-dominated and it makes you feel as if you have to work twice as hard to succeed,” Rojas said. “It was gratifying just to be nominated for the award, and receiving it was awesome.”

Rojas credits the lab environment at FIU for giving her a boost when starting her career.

“The lab experience taught me so much,” she said. “I learned how to network, how to conduct experiments and how to use simulation software like SolidWorks. Those skills became my golden ticket. I always tell people it’s not just about the classes you take. Talk to professors and grad students about their research. Look for what interests you.”

Her work in FIU’s Adaptive Neural Systems Lab, in particular, enabled her to get an internship with Beckman Coulter Inc., in Miami, which turned into a permanent position when she graduated. Rojas was a manufacturing engineer at Beckman Coulter until she left for Abbott Laboratories in Illinois in December of 2020.

At Abbott, she first worked as a project engineer, where she was assigned to the rapid diagnostics business unit. Recently, she became a project manager for the company’s capital planning division.

“It’s a very different role, but it allows me to use my engineering background while learning more about the business and finance aspects of manufacturing,” Rojas said. The division develops and implements large-scale manufacturing projects and she works regularly with teams around the world, including groups in Germany and Ireland.

As a sports-loving youngster growing up in Colombia, Rojas never pictured herself as an engineer. She moved to New Jersey as a young teen and then back to Colombia, where she finished high school. Eventually, she moved to South Florida. Still unsure about her future, she started community college toying with the idea of pursuing journalism or nursing.

“I was good at math and chemistry and when I took a few basic engineering classes, a professor encouraged me to think about biomedical engineering,” she said. After transferring to FIU, Rojas hit her stride, starting a biomedical club with another student and seeking out lab opportunities.

She strongly believes that there is too much pressure on teens to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. “It’s okay to not know what you want to do at the age of 18,” she said. “Take the time to explore and take random classes that seem interesting. Talk to professors. They are happy when you ask them about their work or their labs. Ask if they need help in the lab. You will be surprised at the opportunities you have.”

It is always gratifying to see FIU alumni excel, said John L. Volakis, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing. “And when one of our graduates, such as Dani, is recognized on the national stage, it makes us proud that a Panther is making a difference in the world today.”

Rojas, who has recently taken up painting as a hobby, said she is regularly asked about her future plans. When she answers, she sounds a bit like the college student she was not long ago. “I’m not really sure,” she admitted. “My boss asks me this all the time. I would like to be the project owner of these million-dollar capacity projects one day. But I’m still learning something new every day.”