Alexandra Medina-Borja

Current Position: Manager of Operations Research & Analysis at American Red Cross - NHQ
Alexandra Medina-Borja
Highlight Enroll yourself in advanced math.Do not go with those saying that math is boring or for nerds.
August 14, 2007Her job: Manager of Operations Research & Analysis, American Red Cross - NHQ
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I direct a group of analysts that work with a lot of data from all the American Red Cross chapters nationwide. I do this from ARC headquarters in Washington D.C. We transform the numbers into useful information so that directors can make good decisions affecting thousands of Red Cross employees, volunteers and customers. We study all Red Cross systems and make suggestions for improvement.
Why did you choose engineering? I liked math in school. In fact I still like the challenge of puzzles and I play Sudoku, a type of mathematical puzzle, every time I get few minutes. I also wanted to do something challenging and different, and I loved Industrial Engineering because of it being an engineering discipline that can be used in many, many types of businesses or situations.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? I got my undergraduate degree in Production Engineering with a minor in Materials Engineering at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I got my Masters of Engineering from Virginia Tech and my Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering also from Virginia Tech.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work? I have always worked a lot analyzing systems. First understanding all the tasks involved in a job, and then understanding the relationships among parts of the system that we want to improve. Systems can be either a production line inside a factory or a disaster relief operation at the Red Cross. It can also be the customer service operations of a bank, or anything really. After understanding the system I usually document it, making graphical representations of them and taking information about the resources used at each step. Then we think and spend many hours at the computer with several software packages analyzing the best way to improve any problems I found in it. Then I write a report, and present the findings to upper management.
What do you like best about being an engineer? I love to be an industrial engineer because an IE  is always a consultant to the company she works. As a consultant your job is never boring. It changes all the time. A new problem, a new challenge, a new project for you. The possibilities are endless…
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of? I am very proud of having been a tiny Latin girl, with not a complete command of English, who was able to overcome all limitations and work hard to get a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech, and later to get a top, highly technical position at the largest disaster relief organization in the world. I am very proud of having had that position for five years because of merit. Nobody can be in that position for any other reason as it is extremely sophisticated and technical.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? The main challenge is that of being taken seriously. I think I was able to overcome that.
Please tell us a little about your family. I have two little children. A boy who is 9 and a girl who is 8. Both of them were born in Blacksburg, VA while I was pursuing my doctorate. It was pretty crazy but those were some of the best  years of  my life. My husband was with me also pursuing his Ph.D. My husband Armando is a wonderful support and my best friend.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? I want to give back a little of the big things that life has given me. I have accepted a position as faculty at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez to begin doing that. I want to teach other girls like me pursuing engineering dreams that everything is possible. I am moving my family to Mayagüez and my long term goals will be around improving education in the island.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? Three persons: my dad who told me that education was the most important goal in life, and the only thing that nobody can take away from you. He also taught me to work hard. My mom who took me to English classes every day during 10 years and waited for me to come out , reading a book on the waiting room with incredible dedication and love. And my husband, who has taught me everything else I needed to succeed, but especially how to “write” and how to present my ideas in a convincing way.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? Enroll yourself in advanced math.Do not go with those saying that math is boring or for nerds.  Never dismay. Work hard, and choose the engineering area that you feel more attracted to, not the one that seems to be more popular.  Oh, and if you want to also have a family, first finish your BS so that you can be an independent bread winner if worst comes to worst, and read about Lillian Gilbreth and her 12 kids. It is inspirational.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. I love to paint, but I am not a good artist. I also like to dance to Latin music, to play with my kids and i love the beach. Everything related to the beach is top of my list