Mom of the Month: January 2020

Is it too late to say, “Hope you haven’t given up on your 2020 resolutions yet?” For those who are now shamefully tucking into that doughnut you swore you wouldn’t eat…I apologise for the stark reminder of your failed self-promises, but tomorrow is another opportunity to try and do better🙃 - so let’s just keep going while we’re at it…(maybe get a cup of coffee to go with that 🙂)

My absolute favourite part to writing this blog, is learning about how other STEM moms manage their lives. Whilst we are all trying to look graceful and heroic in holding it all together, adulting in general is tough. There is no set method, format or guide to raising children; whilst having to get busy fighting the patriarchy and forging a path for young girls and women in STEM… (all in a day’s work of course 😎).

This month we get to feature our first Latina STEM mom, who might I add, works at NASA! (*insert squeaky high pitched yelp) Elizabeth (@engineerelizabeth) is a computer/electrical engineer student in her senior year. She currently works as a researcher at NASA building experiments to study the atmosphere and the Aurora Borealis. She is also the mom to an amazing boy name Daniel, who is 13 years old and in 8th grade. I loved learning about how she manages her time between work, studying and parenting. Thanks for sharing your journey with our community Elizabeth, it’s been a treat ❤


Bio

Name:        Elizabeth Hernandez

Age:            35

Location:     Houston, Texas, USA

Job title:      Research Project Manager

Company:  NASA

Research project manager: Elizabeth Hernandez & her son Daniel

Interview with a fellow STEM mom

1. What does your everyday work entail?

As a researcher working with a team of twenty-five people, we work on building different types of instruments to study the aurora borealis.

In my everyday work being the Project Manager; I start by checking emails, responding to many emails, prepare for meetings, work at the lab on payload review, design, structure and building of instruments.

2. What career path led you to your current work?

Research led me to where I am now.

I finished my Associate in Science at a community college and then transferred to University into the Computer/Electrical Engineer program.

When I look back and I think of what I wanted to do, I have to say that I am so proud and happy that I choose engineering. I have always had an interest in engineering and the medical field. I used to do medical research, therefore one of the routes that I could have taken was Nursing school. Being a mom and needing to work, I didn’t want to complicate my life too much in a competitive field; as I knew I would need to also dedicate time to my son. It was the easiest more comfortable option. Yet a conversation with my then, nine year old son, changed everything. “Mom, this will be your career you will work on this for the rest of your life, even if is competitive you will enjoy it and I am sure that you are capable of doing it”. I didn’t think twice after he said that. I applied to the University of Houston into the engineering program, instead of the Nursing program at UTMB. It has been one of the best decisions I have made. As difficult as it is, I enjoy and love this field. I consider myself a creative thinker and problem solver, so engineering has been the right choice for me.

Upon my acceptance into the program, I joined the Society of Women Engineers. I wanted to meet other women and interact/make connections with them in this field. I signed up for the mentorship program they offer. I was paired with one of the most amazing engineers I have met. She became my mentor and helped and advised me career wise. I went to my first SWE conference with her. She was at that time working on a research program with NASA, building instruments to study the aurora borealis and the atmosphere. The team built these instruments from scratch at the lab, they then prepared everything to fly out to Alaska, launch them in helium balloons into the atmosphere and thereafter track and recover them at the landing site.

I have always had an interest for research, at my previous job I was the research manager of a DNA study in Dallas; soon after expressing my interests to my mentor, I was given the great opportunity to work with the team.

Our next expedition will be to fly out some of the instruments we are building to Sweden and Alaska, Fairbanks.

3. Was there ever a time that you recall wanting to change paths & what convinced you to continue on your chosen path?

After I choose engineering and fell in love with my classes and the things I am accomplishing I have never thought of switching to another profession. I have however considered switching to Biomedical engineering, since I love the medical field. But after doing some research, I’ve found that with my current degree, I would still be able to in that field as well as others in different industries. That convinced me to stay the course.

4. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one 😋)

A 24 hr day starts by:

• Waking up at 6:00AM

- Stretch, and meditate for 15 min

- Exercise 30-45 min.

• 7:00-8:00

- Make breakfast for my son and I (His favorite is egg whites with broccoli  ), drink my coffee and catch up with space related news (Especially anything related to Elon Musk, I am a huge fan of his work).

- Shower and be ready to go to school and work.

• 8:00-10:AM o I work from home.

- My son does online schooling. He gets ready for his online classes and I work online.

• 10-10:45 o I drive to school, my first class starts at 11:00 and my last ends at 3:30PM.

• I go into work from 4:00 to 9:00 except Tuesdays and Thursday. On those days my son attends martial arts class from 5:00-6:00PM and after that I spend the rest of the evening with him, checking his assignments and making sure he is up to date or if he needs help on any class. Since is online school he does everything online but I am his learning coach.

• We finish at around 9:00PM then he gets ready for bed and I start working on homework, study, go over notes etc. That’s school time.

• My day ends at around midnight or 1:00AM

 

5. Name the one thing which excites you about your field of work.

What excites me is that I can make an impact with the work that I do, not only with what we are researching and how amazing the STEM field is, but as a role model to inspire women and young girls.

6. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?

It has been a challenge, but at the same time it is something that I enjoy so I always look at the positive side of things. It is unfortunate that some men still think engineering is not for females. I was once asked by a classmate “What are you doing in this class, this is engineering”? On another occasion at a work meeting offsite, after arriving I was asked “If I was really there representing my team?”

It can be tough, but I don’t let those things bothered me. Being the only female in many of my classes, at work or in meetings actually makes me feel good because I am representing women in a field where men think it is there territory.

7. Do you find that there are still barriers within the STEM field?

On a personal level I don’t think there are barriers. As a female in this field, aside from those that still feel we don’t belong there, I have found a lot of support at school and at work. I have also looked to social media for STEM communities on Instagram and Facebook and have found amazing women in the field being supportive and sharing their stories.

8. Did becoming a mom change how you experienced your field of work?

No, since I was already a mom when I joined the engineering field, I set my schedule accordingly and my son supports me. The work is a lot, because I am still a student. Thank goodness I am now a senior -Yay!

9. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

There’s a need for more STEM outreach. Support should be offered to women and young women giving them more information about STEM - the benefits/satisfaction outweighs any barrier.

I have noticed in this field is that women tend to be more cautions. They tend to over-think if they have the capabilities to endure in a male dominated field. They wonder if it is going to be over-whelming. Am I qualified? All these questions make us feel like it would be better to choose an easier field, a field in which we will feel like we belong. Men don’t think about it, they don’t question themselves, nothing intimidates them they just do it. They go for what they want and accomplish it. So in my opinion empowering women to not feel intimidated, or question their abilities could be supportive emotionally, going forward.

10. What do you hope to achieve within your career, whether in the short/long term?

My short term goals include:

• Finishing my undergrad degree - I am almost there and can’t wait for that day.

• I am also planning to continue into grad school - I am working on publishing a paper regarding my research and I hope that this will allow me acceptance into grad school. I will continue pursuing research and possibly an engineering position at NASA after I graduate.

Long term goal: start my own software company!

11. Would you encourage your little one(s) & other young girls to move into a career similar to your own & why?

Yes, I encouraged my son to be an engineer but his firm career choice for now (and it has been since he was 8 years old) is to be a cardiologist. I am happy with his choice and will support him every step of the way. He tells his friends and his cousins what I do and they always love to hear about it. One of his cousins has come to me for advice and I am always fascinated to tell them all about STEM. One of my goals in regards to this is to plan outreach events to schools and talk to kids about what I do. It’s exciting for us as adults, so imagine what it would be like for them 🙂 Getting them excited by learning about what they can do in this field, could lead them to choose a STEM-related career path.

12. What's your favourite mom &kiddie activity?

Our favorite activity is going to the movies, Barnes and Nobles to read books (and sometimes also buy some) and drink coffee, and have dinner at my son’s favorite Japanese restaurant. He loves ramen 🙂

13. Please could you give fellow STEM moms some advice on how to navigate the challenges within our field.

The best advice I can give is to find your community, find support. There is a community willing to support you and if you can support someone; do it.

On occasion, it can be overwhelming, but always remember that we have our little ones looking up to us.


If you enjoyed this month's feature, be sure to have a look at our earlier featured moms in the #MomoftheMonth tab.

If you'd like to be feaured or would like to nominate an amazing STEMinist, be sure to email: kamie@thestem-mom.com

Are you interested in joining our tribe of phenomenal STEM moms?- Join the group on Facebook

Do you enjoy content related to new developments in STEM?- Go ahead and Like the Facebook Page.

We're also on Instagram: @stem_moms to keep up with the latest news around STEM topics, women in STEM and diversity and inclusion in STEM.

The STEM Mom could also Speak, moderate and facilitate discussions at your next event! Or work with your team to strategise around better diversity and inclusion. Get in touch soon!

Keep innovating together!

Kamie