There’s no one way to be an engineer or any right way to look like an engineer. For Diana Iracheta, it’s important that people not only recognize the obstacles in STEM but also actively work to make the field more inclusive.
Diana Iracheta is a first-generation Mexican immigrant. She is a recent Mechanical Engineering graduate from Northern Illinois University (NIU) after beginning her STEM studies at a community college. She currently works as a Manufacturing Engineer at Methode Electronics in the Chicago Suburbs.
Diana is a strong advocate for STEM, with a focus on the empowerment of women and Latinas in Engineering. She recently launched a blog, Instagram account (@latina_engineer), Youtube channel, and online shop named: “Latina Engineer”. Through these platforms, she shares her experiences as a minority in engineering, creates educational content for STEM students and designs empowering STEM items to show that anyone can become an engineer.
How did you get into STEM?
I got into STEM through physics. I took it when I was a senior in high school. To be honest, I struggled a lot at the beginning, but I loved the problem solving aspect of it. From then on I ventured into looking at the different careers within STEM until I decided to become a Mechanical Engineer.
How did you decide on mechanical engineering?
Through Mechanical Engineering, I was able to combine problem solving and critical thinking with creativity. My emphasis is on design. I love being able to locate a problem and design a solution. I am able to build something from scratch and see it come to life.
What are some stereotypes you’re most determined to disprove?
Some of the top stereotypes that I work hard to break are the image of Latinos in the US. Since I arrived to the US, I have been faced with many discriminatory situations because of my language barrier or my background. I was told I couldn’t be a good student because of where I came from. These things pushed me to work harder to achieve my goals. I have also met many other Latinos that are working everyday to make a better future for themselves and their families. It is time we change how the world sees us.
The second stereotype is what an engineer should look like. Especially what a female in engineering should look like. I am the complete opposite of the “ideal” engineer. I am a female, I am a Latina, I am an immigrant, I am short, I am girly. It’s time we stop joking about how female engineers are manly or unattractive. The truth is anyone can be an engineer, and an engineer can look like anyone. This is why I launched my page “Latina Engineer”. I am who I want to be there, I like the color pink, I wear heels and dresses. But I can also not do my nails or make up and wear sneakers every single day. None of these things make me less of an engineer.
What does the average day in your field for you look like?
My job consists of engineering meetings for new product review, and some time creating new design blueprints. However, I am also on the production floor about 40% of my day. I set up new manufacturing procedures and train employees. I oversee first piece builds, and problem solve if something doesn’t go as planned. At work, I also speak about 50% English and 50% Spanish due to the diversity of the company I work at. I have to say being able to speak both languages at work is something that I enjoy very much and that people don’t get to do a lot, especially coming from an engineer.
Who inspires you in STEM?
The book “Hidden Figures” and the amazing stories of the women in this book motivate me to do what I do. While we have different ethnicity and background, we are both minorities in STEM and that is the greatest connection that I have been able to have with people in STEM. Knowing that others have faced the same challenges in these areas of study and work motivates me to know that I can be successful as well.
How has your experience been as a Latina in engineering?
Being a Latina in engineering school was probably one of the most challenging and lonely things that I have done. I was one in a room of 50 to 100 people. Other student were also not very welcoming. It was the silence that said it all: “You don’t belong here”. I had to fight everyday against the thought of not being good enough for engineering. There was not a single day where I wouldn’t doubt about my ability to become an engineer. I would think: “People like me don’t do these things, they go for other majors, other interests”. But that was the same reason that kept me there. Thinking why not prove to them that we can.
How was your experience in STEM at a community college?
I had really good and really bad experiences as a STEM student and leader at a community college. My first year male classmates would only be interested in dating or becoming sexually involved and they would talk about it between themselves. I was in classes with students that were a year ahead of me and all my classmates were men. I had to learn to stay on my own to avoid putting myself at risk by trying to make friendships. That was a bad year.
However, my second year, I became president of the STEM club. I was able to bring back a club that had only 2 members up to almost 30 members. We planned fundraisers, guest speakers, field trips. I was very involved. However, I was publicly targeted and criticized by a student to the point where I was afraid of walking on campus on my own. Being a female is STEM was very challenging. Thats why when I got to a 4 year university, I stayed low and focused on my classes.
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
Working as an engineer. Being able to apply everything we learn in school to the real world. Being able to create designs that solve problems and seeing them work.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
My experience as a female in STEM. While we as females are motivating each other and inspiring each other to go into STEM, the environment needs to change. Just look at the experiences I had at community college. We need the support of men so that we can change this. I see many say they support but don’t do anything about it. We need them to take action.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“Feel the fear and do it anyways”
The whole time that I have been in engineering, I have been scared. I have learned that it is okay to be scared, as long as it doesn’t stop us from reaching our goals.