August 6, 2010Her job: Asst. Prof. Materials Science & Engineering, USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I am a professor in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Southern California (USC). My group is called the Hodge Materials Nanotechnology Research Group. We mostly work with metals and we aim to develop new materials with improved properties, such as greater strength.
Why did you choose engineering?
Because it is so much fun! It requires imagination and passion. I am constantly thinking about how to make materials that do not exist yet and how to solve current materials problems.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I have a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University in Illinois, and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV. Every year I was an active member of one or two organizations and this made college life much more fulfilling.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
The days are usually long since I have an active research group that consists of one post-doc, five Ph.D. students and four undergraduate students. I spend lots of time working on new ideas and sending proposals for funding. I typically meet with my students once a week to discuss their research and make sure we are making progress.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I feel like I can make a contribution for a better world. I think that if I can engineer better, more efficient materials, I can help improve people's lives as well as reduce pollution.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I am most proud of representing my native country (Colombia) in a positive light and on a scientific level.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
I have obtained funding for my projects. I also try to keep a balanced life. On a lighter note, my day to day challenge is to eat less candy!
Please tell us a little about your family.
I am very close to my family, especially my two brothers Johan and William. I also have a cat, Mr. Waffles. He is very sweet and likes to sleep on top of engineering books!
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
I would love to design the next generation materials for space exploration. I would also like to be the director of the NSF :)
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
I have been fortunate to have so many wonderful mentors. Professor Julia Weertman ( also featured in EngineerGirl!), has been a source of inspiration; she is strong, she is brilliant, she is just a beautiful human being and I want to be like her. She has encouraged me to do better and aim very high in my scientific goals.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
You have to persevere even when things get difficult. Always aim high and focus on your goals.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love hiking and dancing (salsa, merengue). I also love to travel all over the world.