Paulina Castrellon is an Environmental Health & Safety Engineer working in aviation, construction, chemical manufacturing, and life science!
As an EHS engineer, Paulina’s role is heavy in creating and design engineering controls for different types of machinery. Paulina is skilled in industrial hygiene monitoring and reporting, ergonomics, and performing Job Safety Analysis (JSA)/Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and safety audits. She conducts hands-on training and risk assessments, including for PPE, confined spaces, chemical safety, machine safety, electrical, noise, and more!
How did you get into STEM?
I got into STEM out of curiosity after enrolling into a course called environmental occupational health 101 as an elective during undergrad! I had never heard of this field of study and right away something sparked a fire in my soul and the rest is history!
Who inspires you in STEM?
Very cliché but MYSELF — I had no one growing up around me who was in STEM or involved in STEM, and no one ever told me as a little girl that could ever be an option! I was determined to be my own cheerleader and prove to my family and everyone around me they were all wrong, including MYSELF — I didn’t want to believe them!
I then found an empowering community here on social media where I’ve had the amazing privilege to meet these men and women in STEM! Many of them had chatted with me and shared their own personal struggles and stories and that alone inspires me every day! WE ARE NOT ALONE!
How did you decide to become an EHS engineer?
I decided to become an EHS engineer during my second year of undergrad, when I switched my major from communication /journalism to environmental, occupational and health! It was the first time in a long time where I felt excited about learning! I also saw around me from family, friends, partners no one really believed in me…it made me angry …so I turn that anger into fight and passion because I wanted this for myself!
What’s been your experience being first gen and doing engineering?
I’ve had many challenges. As a first gen Latina/Chicana growing up in a very strict latinx household, I never realized how much my mental health was being affected until I left home! I’ve always had big, “wild” ideas and goals but I never had anyone to tell me that I could do it! As many first gen know — we are raised to in homes where showing “emotions” “feelings” can be looked at as “weak” and that is not the case!
Once I started working, I was the only woman in many roles I had and I felt even more alone! I kept a lot of my feelings inside and never told anyone. I just did my best to keep my head up high and just keep working extremely hard! I would always say, “this is temporary, this is not permanent”. It makes me so proud and happy to see so many amazing people in STEM, and fellow first gen. Now, I can say I do NOT feel alone!
What’s been your experience as a Latina in engineering? What was it like to see ILEW take off this year?
For many years I never meet any other Latina engineers. CRAZY, right? But if anything, I felt just angry and sad by it, and very motivated to change that! I always told myself I will never be the last mujer engineer at any company I previously worked at! It’s my duty to make sure more women and women POC get hired in STEM!
ILEW was something so amazing. When my girl Diana Iracheta came up with this magical empowering idea I was all for it! Along with the other amazing women who supported and helped! It truly was a group effort, but Diana is someone who truly inspires me! This young woman is truly an inspiration and the definition of a hustler! I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to call her a friend because you want women like her at your table, trust me! At the end of ILEW I definitely cried knowing all the hard work we all gave. To be able to provide two girls scholarship fund for school, that was a big win! I’ve always felt in my heart as humans the greatest gift you can give in life is love and support. That’s what we did and are showing to all the amazing women in STEM!
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
Having the beautiful opportunity to travel for work, meeting different people all around the world and hearing their stories! The gift of storytelling is so powerful and it’s something I will carry with me forever! Also having the honor to work on amazing projects and collaborations with adidas, Tesla, NASA and more to come…get ready!!!
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
That EHS engineers or safety folks just don’t yell at you to wear PPE all day! We do so much, and many people underestimate the work for EHS / safety folks! It’s my job to make sure you, your family, and friends go home safe every day! I take a lot of passion into that knowing you get to see your loved ones again!
The primary benefit of EHS, and workplace EHS programs is preventing incidents such as injuries, illnesses, and harmful environmental releases. Hazards are real and EHS programs are necessary and provide real benefits. EHS programs at work also show employees that companies care about their well-being. If you have an active EHS culture, your company may have fewer incidents. This will make your employees feel safer and more valued. This will have a positive effect on employee morale, retention, productivity, and even hiring.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
This is temporary, this is NOT permanent. That means, even on your worst days, whatever situation you are in will not last forever! Also, even when you’re on a high of life and things are going great, ENJOY IT! That the time to appreciate your success and enjoy that moment of glory to remind yourself THIS IS NOW. This is all yours!