STUDENTS | September 12, 2018
At an early age, Diana Mendoza said she realized she had a “knack” for math. Her older sisters would teach her the magic of addition and subtraction, and when the time came to practice the subject in class, she excelled.
As Mendoza got older, she said the equations became longer, more complex, but her love never faltered. She said she was nurturing her “mind and soul.”
Her sophomore year at George Westinghouse College Prep, Mendoza said she came across the F.H. Paschen Engineering Scholars program. Through a partnership with Westinghouse, the program would offer students the opportunity to develop technical skills in the engineering field through hands-on activities.
It was every STEM lovers’ dream, and an opportunity Mendoza said she had been dreaming of since she first discovered her love for math.
There was only one thing standing in the way of her applying for the prestigious program–herself–she said.
After pushing through the self-doubt and accepting her mother’s three words of advice, “Go for it,” Mendoza applied and was accepted.
Recently, she wrapped up what she called “the opportunity of a lifetime” and began her junior year at Westinghouse.
We sat down with the future engineer to discuss her biggest influencers and her hopes and dreams for women in STEM.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How would you describe the Paschen Scholars program in your own words?
A: The Paschen Scholars program is real. It gives students a taste of the real world. They give us the material and the experience to find ourselves and decide what we want to do. They treat us with so much kindness and encourage us to talk to people and ask questions. The program opens your mind and allows you to experience people’s lives through their jobs. I found myself because of the Paschen program.
Q: Can you give an example of a project you worked on this summer?
A: I created personal shelters and a bridge model. For the personal shelters, we worked in a trio and it was a lot of planning, a lot of math, and a lot of teamwork. We got it finished and we were proud of it.
My partner and I worked on a bridge simulator, which allowed us to stretch our creativity. It was so much fun. I got to learn a lot about bridges. Something so simple was so much fun.
Q: What was the greatest lesson you learned as a Paschen Scholar?
A: I learned you never stop learning and you always have to keep asking questions.
Q: When did you first establish a passion for STEM?
A: My passion for STEM started off really early. My sisters used to teach me math when I was young. Early on, I realized math and science are universal subjects. Both continue to change and evolve, but everyone around the world uses it in some way.
Q: Was there anyone in your family who influenced your desire to pursue a career in STEM? If so, how?
A: My dad is a mechanic and a construction worker. He encouraged me by letting me be around him when he was working on huge cars and I handed him tools. I felt the true joy and passion he had for it every single day when he would come home with grease on his face, but he was happy.
My mom is the one who encourages me to keep pursuing STEM, even if she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about sometimes.
Q: How has your time as a student at Westinghouse prepared you for a career in STEM?
A: Westinghouse has prepared me by always giving me challenges and encouraging me to participate. My teachers give me something to think about in every class. They’ve prepared me to take challenges head on.
Q: Have you faced any adversity for being a woman wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
A: There were times where I thought I wasn’t enough. I thought I wasn’t smart enough and that there were more people with a stronger passion than I had. As I became more involved with STEM, I realized that people would want me and accept me.
Q: Do you think it’s important for young women to pursue a career in STEM, if so why?
A: I think women should continue to get out there and rise above any expectations. Everyone should pursue something that’s greater than them. Everyone should have the chance to get to know who they are and then pursue a career that they enjoy, not just one they settle for.
A lot of people wake up and realize that they don’t like their jobs. Then there are people like the ones who work with the Paschen Scholars program, who wake up and love what they do. They go to sleep thinking about their job and they’re happy about it.
Q: How have you risen above challenges on your journey, if any?
A: I keep what my mom says in the back of my mind. She always says, ‘Go for it. What do you have to lose?’ And I take leaps of faith.
Q: Where do you hope to attend college? Major?
A: I’m searching for a college, but I haven’t found one that stands out just yet. I want to major in Engineering.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
A: I’m hoping that I find my career. I am always stressing about what I want to do with my future, but, because of this program, I don’t feel so lost.
Q: Any words of advice for anyone feeling doubtful about pursuing a dream?
A: Don’t be scared of a good opportunity. Don’t be scared of having a better life and finding yourself. Don’t let anyone push you down or make you feel like you’re not enough. Take yourself out of the way if you’re the one who’s in the way. Life isn’t about living in fear, it’s about going out there and trying your best. Eventually you will succeed. It doesn’t mean you won’t fail, but it does mean that after trying your best, you’re bound to succeed.