Andrea Coto Founder of Latinxs in Engineering

Share

AndreaCotoSJSUTower

by Linda Castillo

Andrea Coto was born in San Francisco, California and she found her passion for civil engineering early on. As a child she moved to El Salvador where her mother raised her brother and her. After graduating high school, she enrolled in a two-year program to be a Civil Engineer Technician graduating in 2011 with honors and top student in her class.

Seeing her family struggle with psychological and financial problems made her realize that she had to return to San Francisco to provide a better life for her mother and brother. Upon her return to the Bay Area, she encountered challenges as a young woman who did not have proficient English skills so she enrolled at City College of San Francisco as a noncredit English as Second Language student. After taking multiple English classes, she registered as a full-time credit student. Andrea worked multiple jobs while juggling being a full-time student and in May of 2016 she graduated from CCSF with honors, three associate degrees, and she was the 81st commencement student speaker.

AndreaCotoMom

Despite many challenges, Andrea has excelled in everything she sets her mind to. Since transferring to SJSU in Fall 2016 to pursue her degree in Civil Engineering she is maximizing her college experience with many volunteer opportunities and extracurricular activities. She volunteers at CommUniverCity where she participated in different events and programs including College Day (where she met NASA’s Astronaut Jose Hernandez), Green Halloween, and peer writing partner to elementary students. She also participated at the WiE Women’s in Engineering Conference as a student ambassador. This summer she was selected as one of 16 engineering students to participate in the “Global Technology Institute” where she had the opportunity to travel to Taiwan to be part of the 2017 Chung Yuan Christian University- International Innovation and Entrepreneur Leadership Experience Program. In addition, this summer she started an internship at NASA Ames Research Center at the Technology Transfer Office.

AndreaCotoGraduationCapAnd if all of the above wasn’t a lot, from her own experience and the fact that Latinos are underrepresented in all engineering fields she was inspired to start Latinxs in Engineering. This educational project aims to help Latinxs engineering students here in the U.S. by informing them of various educational and professional opportunities as scholarships, internships, workshops, and more. Currently, the platform is available to everyone through a public Facebook page, but her vision is to launch a website and a mobile application so that all information will be in a centralized location.

“What I have found out as an engineering student is that there are many opportunities that students do not even know about, and therefore they do not apply or sometimes they do not how to apply. Studying, and living so close to the Silicon Valley area has opened many valuable engineering opportunities for me. In fact, I have learned so much about engineering and about myself that I would like for others to also take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there,” said Andrea.

Tell me what inspired you to start Latinxs in Engineering?

Latinos and Latinas are underrepresented in all engineering fields.  Based on my experience as an engineering student, there is so much potential to succeed in those who decide to pursue engineering. I like to think that this potential is in our blood. We received this heritage from our indigenous ancestors who built huge pyramids, chinampas, amazing handcrafts and from those who basically used their innovation and creativity to improve their lives using simple technology.
Moreover, unlike our other peers, the Latinx population has to face many more challenges to achieve their educational dreams, for example: students have to work full-time, to take care of siblings/family, illnesses, immigration issues, etc.

In California, the Latinx population is the largest ethnic group , but this does not mean anything unless ALL Latinos and Latinas have the same access to education. If we as community do not start helping each other out, things will not move forward, and future generations will also be affected.

I included the term Latinxs because our community is facing one of the most challenging moments in the history of the U.S. The “Latinx” term includes EVERYONE despite of their cultural background, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, etc. All Latinxs in Engineering deserve to be heard, and to achieve their dreams in engineering.

Tell us about Latinxs in Engineering?

Latinxs in Engineering is an educational project that aims to help Latinxs engineering students here in the U.S. by informing them of various educational and professional opportunities as scholarships, internships, workshops, and others. So far, this platform is available to everyone through a public Facebook page, but the vision is to launch our own website, and a mobile application. What it is valuable about this project is that students will be able to have all information in handy, and in one place. What I have found out as an engineering student is that there are many opportunities that students do not even know about, and therefore they do not apply (or sometimes they do not how to apply). Studying, and living so close to the Silicon Valley area has opened many valuable engineering opportunities for me. In fact, I have learned so much about engineering and about myself that I would like for others to also take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there.

Are there unique challenges as a Latina majoring in Engineering?

Yes, and many! According to the National Science Foundation, in 2009 Hispanic/Latino female (U.S. citizen and permanent resident) bachelor’s degree recipients in engineering were 1,261 which is 2.0% of the grand total B.S. degree recipients.

The first time that I read these statistics (in the book “The Borderlands of Education- Latinas in Engineering) I felt angry, but then I started analyzing my own experience as an engineering student, and I found out that there are many factors why this is happening. Race and gender differences are noticeable when someone enters into any engineering class (even at SJSU). Many times, I have been the only Latina in my Science, Mathematics, and Engineering classes, and most of the time this issue does not concern all students because they are generally more focused on getting good grades. Nevertheless, this issue affects the outcome of Latinas in their classes. This not only happens in classrooms, but also in the academia. The representation of Latinos as university instructors is not enough! I have never had a Latino/Latina professor in any of my engineering courses, and this is very concerning because it is so vital for students to have role models, so they get encouraged to keep pursuing engineering. Thankfully, I have had few mentors who keep encouraging me in school, and life.
This is just one example of the many challenges that Latinas face in Engineering. It is time to change this.

Do you have any tips to share to make the most of your college experience?

The best tips that I usually give other students is: to be proactive, to ask lots of questions, and to believe in yourself. College experience should be enjoyable, and I understand when people try to stay very focused in grades, but by developing good organizational, and communication skills, it is possible to have both. Internships as well as other college related applications usually require similar information, so by having ones’ resume, personal statement, and essays ready, the process becomes easier (I strongly recommend the use Google Drive as a storing platform). Having mentors, and a network of people who to ask for help is also essential.

 

AndreaCotoTaiwan

Tell us about your internship at NASA?

Currently, I am a student intern at the Technology Partnerships division at NASA Ames Research Center. I am supporting the NASA Ames Transfer Technology Program, and the Strategic Partnerships Office in different tasks.

My journey at NASA started in summer of 2016 when I was selected to participate in the STEM Community College Institute Program. In this very first program, I was chosen to be the project manager of the “Queen Bee” team. We were the only ‘all female’ team in the final robotics competition, and we were also the winning team. In this program I learn a lot about how to manage budgets, the importance of safety, how to use laser cutters, 3D printers, and other electronic devices.  Then, during spring of 2017, I was selected as a NASA Aerospace Scholar, and I participated in the National Community College Aerospace Program. In this program, I had the opportunity to learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars during the 5-week online learning component. I designed a Mars rover called “Clarity” that gave me the opportunity to be selected for the on-site experience at NASA Ames Research Center. Here I was selected as the project manager of the “Red Team”. The best outcome from this program is that I was selected as one of the three MVP’s scholars (the only woman). This was an unexpected, but amazing moment. ♦

Andrea is very passionate about the space industry and she would like to work at NASA as a project manager. You can help Andrea get one step closer to achieving her dream. She was chosen to attend the Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program from the International Space University ISU. This program is a unique, five-week live-in experience focusing on the space industry, and it will take place in Adelaide, Australia from January 15 to February 16, 2018. Andrea’s fundraising goal is $12,000 USD that will cover cost of tuition, accommodation, meals, and flight tickets. If you would like to donate to this cause visit: https://www.gofundme.com/andrea-coto-wants-to-go-to-isu

Linda Castillo is the Founder and Executive Editor of www.ModernLatina.com. She writes on topics that empower and inspire Latinas including art, motherhood, green living, culture, travel, and issues transforming the Latino community. Linda has earned a B.S. in Business and a M.S. in Mass Communications from San Jose State University.