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Latinas Reaching Positions of Influence in STEM

By Christine Bolaños.

Latinas in positions of influence in STEM industries are becoming more common with each passing year. Companies of impact know the importance of hiring employees who bring new ideas and different perspectives to the table. Research shows that companies with more diverse and inclusive staff tend to be more successful. IBM and Westar Energy are two such companies. Sonia Mezzetta began her career at IBM in 2001 as a software engineer and worked her way up to Data Strategy Consultant and Certified Information Architect. Erica Garcia is an engineer at Westar Energy where she is responsible for effectively and efficiently reducing emissions. Find out what makes these Latinas tick in our latest article.

Sonia Mezzetta

Data Strategy Consultant Certified Information Architect

Sonia Mezzetta grew up in a small two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with her parents, who had immigrated from Ecuador, her younger sisters and their pets.

“One of the most important things they always said to me was, ‘Sonia, you have to make sure you go to school every day and take advantage of the education you have so you don’t do what I’m doing today,” she recalls.

Mezzetta’s mother was a factory worker while her father was a taxi driver. Both worked tough jobs and long days. Today, all three daughters are professionals with college degrees. Mezzetta is a Data Strategy Consultant and Certified Information Architect at IBM.

“I really do trace that back to my Hispanic roots,” Mezzetta says. “I don’t stop learning. I love working for a company like IBM because they have a lot of educational resources and my learning continues to evolve.”

Mezzetta began her career with IBM in 2001 as a software engineer in the research division. Her greatest memory of her time in that position is working on an interactive web application for hearing impaired children who read stories in sign language.

In her current role as Data Strategy Consultant, Mezzetta works for the IBM Chief Data Office, a new organization focused on using data to help IBM become a “cognitive business.” She works on advanced research and application of information analytics and technology to recommend and implement information management solutions.

Mezzetta believes her passion and gratitude for what she does stems from her parents.

“I do remember what my mother went through and what my dad went through,” Mezzetta shares. “That’s not to say it’s an easy job; it’s an intense job.”

Mezzetta said she has evolved from a timid intern to a confident working woman.

“I did start as an intern and I didn’t really speak up when I first joined in terms of what my interests were,” she recalls. She ended up taking on projects she wasn’t truly interested in instead of those she was truly passionate about because she did not speak up.

“I overcame that by learning from other great women in the company,” Mezzetta says. IBM is a worldwide company with women in various technical roles and levels of expertise, including Hispanic executives and distinguished engineers.

She advises Latinas to keep pushing forward no matter the challenges.

“You will make it in the end,” Mazzetta shares.

Erica Garcia

Engineer Air Quality Control Systems
Westar Energy

Instead of writing essays for scholarships and filling out college applications, Erica Garcia spent the fall of her senior year in high school recovering from a nearly fatal car accident. Witnesses were unsure if she would survive and others questioned whether she would be able to graduate on time.

She proved all the doubters wrong by graduating on time with honors thanks to the extra time she put in catching up on her calculus work making sure she could pass the Advanced Placement exam.

That tenacity and will is hereditary as Garcia’s parents came from families of farmworkers and ranch hands and were unable to finish high school. Her parents instilled in her the value of hard work and a quality education. That dedication resulted not only in Garcia’s high achievements, but in her parents’ ability to eventually graduate college themselves.

“My parents always told me that I could be and do anything I wanted to do in this world and growing up when I asked what I wanted to be answers ranged everywhere from a cardiologist to the first woman president,” Garcia explains. “From their example, I learned that it is the responsibility of the next generation to further the achievements of their ancestors.”

She felt a pull toward engineering after discovering it was an innovative field with limitless possibilities. Her strength in chemistry drew her to chemical engineering.

Today, she is an Air Quality Control Systems Engineer at Westar Energy. But there were a few challenges along the way.

Garcia graduated college in 2009, in the middle of the recession, and had a difficult time finding an engineering opportunity with just one internship under her belt. She spent the next four years teaching high school math.

“I often found myself encouraging students, especially young women, to pursue a career in science and technology,” she says. A student encouraged her to do something bigger with her life and Garcia realized her future was in STEM.

In her current role, she is responsible for effectively and efficiently reducing emissions.

“I am currently working on a project to upgrade a major piece of equipment so that we can remain in compliance, but do so more efficiently,” she explains, “Our company strives to provide affordable electricity to our customers while simultaneously being good stewards of the environment.”

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