“I appreciate a well written harmony just as much as a robotic arm”

Alejandra Dominguez, mechanical engineering ’15, is one of those lucky right and left brain thinkers. She loves the arts and was a performer in College Players during her time at Florida Tech. She also helped design and build a Mars Rover for her student design project and was active in the Society of Mechanical Engineers.   

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

women in STEAM
College Player’s production of Dirty, Rotten, Scoundrels, (Alejandra far right).

Math has always been my favorite subject since middle school and all the way through college. A really intricate differential equation really excites me and being able to solve it makes me smile. I also love the arts and expressing myself creatively. I’ve been building robots and taking apart household gadgets (to my mother’s dismay) since I was eight, but I’ve also been doing musical theater, sewing, dancing and painting for equally as long. I can appreciate a really well written harmony just as much as the repeatability on a Yasnac SV3X robotic arm.

What are you up to these days?

Currently, I’m working as a Rear Seat Structure Engineer for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.  Although it’s not the field I intended to work in after graduation, I’ve come to really appreciate the amount of effort it takes to design, develop, test, and manufacture vehicles. I’ve learned so much these past ten months at my job on what it is like to be an engineer for a major global corporation. I’ve also learned a significant amount about the interior of a vehicle and more specifically, the seats. People have a tendency of taking the seats of a car for granted (I know I sure did before starting my job), but the amount of engineering and man power poured into this one section of a vehicle to assure you remain safe during collisions is pretty impressive. Catering to different global federal crash-safety regulations and standards is difficult, but knowing every passenger will be safe is a really gratifying. Working on a brand new vehicle platform that’s being manufactured globally has opened up so many new and exciting opportunities for me such as traveling to China, India, Mexico and Brazil.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?

mars rover challenge
Original design sketch of our Mars Rover

My passion has always been robotics, which is the primary reason why I decided to get my mechanical engineering degree. I love how technology created by engineers shapes and drives the world around us, make life easier and the human experience more enjoyable. Ever since I was little I was obsessed with space. To this day, I still want to be an astronaut and get into space or end up somewhere on Mars.  The time I was starting to really enjoy mathematics and how it could be applied in real life was when Hope and Curiosity were sent to Mars, and I remember obsessively following their progression. I think that’s what really drove me to get into mechanical engineering, with hopes of someday being able to apply my degree to the robotics field and even some day working on a rover.

What do think are some of the most common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?

I believe that the most common challenge as a woman in STEM which I personally felt, is the feeling that it is never assumed that you are qualified or capable to do your job. First impressions always seem like you have to prove your skills or knowledge to someone, I felt like male counterparts never had to go through this. I often felt my male coworkers were over-protective and babied me, especially when it came to power tools or any sort of physical task required by my job. It was always first assumed that I didn’t know how to use power tools or I couldn’t carry something heavy. I can grab a ratchet and start torqueing down that bolt on the seat with no issues.

How have you overcome obstacles as a woman in STEM?

I’ve overcome some of the obstacles I’ve faced by being persistent and incredibly opinionated, which can be a blessing and a curse, depending on the situation. I trust my gut and if my instinct is driving me to push for a change or a new direction, I keep pushing until I feel like my ideas have been heard. I noticed that being strong willed is what has helped others notice my abilities and respect the passion I put into my work.

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?

Even though you’ve planned your entire college and career path since middle school, it is perfectly okay if life pushes you in a different direction. Life can provide you with some really amazing opportunities to explore other parts of your life you probably would have missed otherwise. Don’t be so hard on yourself and allow yourself to have some fun. Not being perfect does not mean you will not be successful. Also, try to sing and dance, or even act in a play. I could make you really happy, I know it did for me.

What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing a career in STEM?

Don’t ever give up or get discouraged while trying to pursue your passion. There will be days where you feel like there are a million roadblocks to what you want to accomplish, but just keep pushing forward. The rewards you will gather along the way makes all the challenges worth it. No matter what, don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or cannot do. They don’t know you like you know yourself.

What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?

Something that really took me by surprise was the lack of female leadership, specifically in the mechanical engineering field. Between universities and major corporations, it’s rare to see a female engineer in a position of leadership. I would have to say that I never had a female engineering role-model while growing up. There’s a significant gap in female professors as well.

In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?

I believe that stronger funding for hands-on STEM topics in public education would encourage more women to get into STEM. The interest is there, I just think there needs to be more accessible outlets for young women to engage in STEM and build up that passion. My high school’s science department budget was heavily lacking and we couldn’t do cool hands-on experiments in chemistry that much. We didn’t even get a chance to dissect a frog in biology. The mathletes weren’t able to get transportation to their meets. It all had to be supported by the parents or it didn’t happen. That sort of hinders the excitement of exploring your field when there is a lack of opportunities and support.

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