Sloan Scholar PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez
1.What is the one piece of advice you would give to other Sloan Scholars who are considering similar career transitions? (Dr. Rivera Jiménez was formerly a professor.)
Be kind to yourself and others. Transitions are hard, and you need to be flexible enough to recognize your strengths and weaknesses in the process. Be kind to yourself and understand that deficiencies become opportunities with the right professional development. Be strategic on your career plans and include time to do things that make you happy. Be kind and grateful to others because you will enjoy the process better. People respond well to genuine kindness.
2.Has being a Sloan Scholar and the program’s commitment to diversifying the STEM fields inspired an aspect of your work? If so, how?
Yes, being a Sloan Scholar allowed me to become the first Ph.D. in my family and opened my eyes to work in academia. One way or another, my career choices always lead me to STEM education. As soon as finished my doctorate, I crossed over from chemical engineering to food packaging at the College of Agricultural Science at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. I learned that there are no discipline boundaries and we all have the capacity to excel with professional development.
I moved from P.R., and I became an assistant professor of chemistry at Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida. It was at this amazing community college where I learned to love teaching. Teaching is a political act, and it became evident that it was my duty to open new doors to many other students. I learned about the challenges and opportunities of teaching to many students with diverse backgrounds. Once again, with professional development, I got trained on multimedia teaching and assessment to better serve my students.
Now at the University of Florida, I am the assistant director of a senior level engineering design program. The purpose of the program is to help sponsor industries to come up with innovative solutions from a multidisciplinary team of students with the guidance of a faculty coach and a liaison engineer. I work directly with students, faculty, university administrators, academic advisors, company recruiters, and engineers in the field. My unique position allows me to understand in depth the importance of diversity for business innovation especially for the engineering industry and academia.
There is no doubt Sloan sparked my career by believing in me. Now, I am committed to diversifying the STEM field. In particular, I want to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion for engineering innovation.
3.What is the one responsibility you were especially looking forward to doing in your new position?
My new position at the University of Florida allows me to combine many personal passions: leadership, engineering, and education. As the assistant director of the program, I oversee the administration of 23 projects. I also work with our staff in marketing campaigns and outreach initiatives. The program director and I
go to industrial sites to define the scope of work for our projects. It means that I learn about new topics from and outside my disciple (Super fun!). I also work on the education side of the program by redesigning the current two-semester course into a flipped model to maximize class time use while addressing a project’s diversity. I am working on new instructional materials and assessment methodologies to meet the program goals and better serve our stakeholders (students, board, faculty, industry, etc.). I look forward to becoming part of the engineering education community!
4.Can you name one opportunity that you came across due to networking?
All my work is based on networking because it involves people. I interact with industrial sponsors, engineers, academic advisors, university staff, faculty, administrators, and students. One of my favorite networking experiences is pitching the program to our academic advisor. We talk with them every semester and try to build a good relationship with them. While networking with one of the advisors, she mentioned that one company was coming to visit her department from Brasil. I told her that I taught in Brasil and knew some Portuguese. She offered me the contact information. Two emails later next day and we had a meeting scheduled with the company for the week after.
5. What is the one thing you like to keep in mind when you mentor students?
The most important thing when I mentor students is making sure they know that I believe in their potential. This is not an easy job because it requires that you always remind them that they can be successful. Sometimes, when you grow up without role models, it’s hard to look into the mirror and see yourself as an engineer, for example. As my mentors did with me once, I want my students to see that they are capable of doing whatever they want to do. While working with their confidence, I also work on teaching them how to plan their career strategically taking into account their strengths and weaknesses.
Tags: career transitions first generation mentoring networking spotlight