#ILookLikeAnEngineer: Stephany Santos
1) Why did you decide to attend UConn Engineering?
Growing up I played basketball, so naturally, UConn has always been on my radar from the days of Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and more. I was a 5’4″ power forward, which meant I would not make it pro, but I still loved watching UConn basketball. I applied to over 12 colleges my senior year of college, but when it came down to it, UConn offered me the best scholarship package, and was one of the only ones to have a BRIDGE program in the School of Engineering.
2) When you’ve told people you were studying engineering, what kinds of looks or reactions have you gotten?
It is ALWAYS a surprised audible or visible reaction. “Oh wow!” Often time they’ll respond with “that’s really hard”, or “you must be really smart”. It might be a bit of imposter syndrome that wants to respond with ‘no I’m not that smart, I just worked really hard’, but I always want people to know that engineering is really accessible, not some far-removed labyrinth of numbers that only geniuses can do.
3) Why did you decide to pursue engineering? Was there a specific moment or person who inspired you?
As a child, I wanted to grow up to help people. When it came time for me to go to college, my father said I needed to select a career ‘appropriate for women’, which at the time, I did not agree with, but I loved my father, so I settled on a major that I knew he would not deny, mechanical engineering, because he was a mechanical engineer himself.
When I arrived at college, I was painfully shocked at what engineering actually was, since all I knew was what my father did. I switched to biomedical engineering after being enlightened by a friend that did the BRIDGE program with me, and realized I could conduct research to help directly after all. I recall thinking where has this – the world of biomedical engineering – been all my life, and wanting other kids to have that same feeling, regardless of the STEM discipline. I co-founded the outreach organization Engineering Ambassadors, in hopes to inspire other kids, especially other underrepresented kids, and show them how engineers can change the world. Being involved in Engineering Ambassadors reaffirms my love of engineering everyday, and gives me so much hope for what engineers can do.
4) Tell us about your background. Where do you come from and what’s your family like?
I was born and raised in Connecticut to parents that immigrated from the Dominican Republic. My parents were very loving but very strict, so many of the activities I was allowed to do had to be school related. I was a 3-season athlete, was the president of a business club called DECA, played the saxophone in marching band, and did quite a bit of community service. At home, I spoke English and Spanish, and learned how to be really observant about the world around me.
5) What are your career goals?
Kevin McLaughlin in the Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center taught me that a person’s background does not define who they become. He also introduced me to the world of engineering, something I thought was only planes and automobiles. I learned that engineers’ primary motive is to help others. My new found sense of unlimited potential in a world of benevolent possibilities became motivation to impact others. My impetus has now evolved into two interconnected life missions: Research and Education, through the lens of Communication. In the future, as a faculty member in academia, I hope to develop more courses to integrate student-driven inquiry and education. I hope to relieve the stresses and concerns that I hear from my undergraduate mentees such as “Why do I bother going to class if the professor just reads from the slides” or “I try so hard and feel like I am learning a lot, but my grades don’t reflect it.” I aim to be a beacon of light and a strong support for my students, as well as my fellow faculty. I hope to be a hybrid faculty member with cross-disciplinary interests in both biomedical research and engineering education research. I recognize that there are there are about 102 Hispanic female engineering faculty in the United States, out of nearly 27,000 total engineering Faculty across the country, so I look forward to pushing boundaries, breaking stereotypes, and changing perceptions on who can be an engineer.
6) What’s your favorite experience been so far in your time at UConn Engineering?
I have the privilege of being able to teach two one-credit courses for UConn Engineering students that revolve around communication and public speaking. This class is often the highlight of my week. I love seeing engineers develop themselves as culturally competent communicators that can speak their opinion unapologetically about global engineering issues. I love seeing the progress in undergrads that blow the “Dilbert” stereotype out of the water.
7) If you could start over, and go back to your senior year of high school, do you think you still would have chosen to pursue engineering?
I would still choose it, but I wish I would have fallen in love with it earlier. I wish there were organizations like EA, NSBE, SHPE and SWE that came to my high school to do all of the fun things that they’re doing now.