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From Regal, to Eagle, to Anteater: Michelle Fairhurst

Name: Michelle Fairhurst (Roa)

Class: May 2010

Major: B.S. in Biology, B.A. in Chemistry

From: Oxnard, CA

Her Campus at Cal Lutheran: Fun facts about yourself.

Michelle Fairhurst: I can ride a dirt bike! I’m not a pro or an expert and I don’t do crazy tricks, but I can ride it: shift gears and brake successfully! I’m really into crafting and sewing. My grandma taught me how to sew and helped me make a quilt in junior high. For Christmas presents, I like to hand-craft presents for my family. It is a really good stress reliever!HCCLU: What is your favorite quote by a female?

MF: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote really speaks to me because I often personalize things: if something doesn’t go according to plan, then I often take it out on myself. This quote helps me to remember that it isn’t healthy to have this mentality.

HCCLU: Who are some of your female role models and why?

MF: Some of my role models are females who have persevered in the face of adversity. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a big one. She was going to school at a time where women usually stayed at home and cared for the family. Before she became a Supreme Court Justice, she advocated for many groups and causes including women’s rights. Recently, I read Hidden Figures and was introduced to more amazing women in STEM! Katherine Johnson was behind the math needed to send astronauts to orbit the Earth. Johnson, along with all the other women at NASA during the time, faced obstacles because of their race and gender, yet they didn’t let that stand in the way of doing their hard work. I like to incorporate that mentality as I face obstacles myself and like to think of these women as the shoulders that we stand on.

HCCLU: Did you feel any obstacles as a woman in the STEM field?

MF: As an undergraduate, I didn’t feel that I had major obstacles and I think the main reason was I was not involved in research. It wasn’t until I became active in research where I started to notice that certain aspects about being a female may be looked at as a burden. For instance, wanting to start a family is something that I and other women have to think about. Will it delay my degree? Will I not get hired for a certain position? Another obstacle resembles being taken seriously. My search is very hands on and often times I troubleshoot and repair my own equipment. Sometimes, this involves calling a company for technical support or questions. There are times where I often wonder if the person on the other side of the phone takes me seriously or if they just think I have no idea what I’m talking about. I have one story where we have these little mechanical pumps that often need to be taken into service. They’re not very big, but are a little heavy. I brought the pump for service on a rolling pallet and the person receiving the pump mentioned something about expecting a strong man to bring it over. Instances like these are very frustrating when it comes to being a woman in STEM, but we overcome!

HCCLU: What did you want to do when you were an undergrad/ what are you doing now?

MF: My goals as an undergrad have completely shifted! As an undergrad, I knew that I wanted to go into forensics and needed a science degree. I did really well in biology in high school so I figured I’d major in that. I interned at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Forensic Lab as a senior and they advised me to go for a Master’s degree, since most scientists they hire have a Master’s and that would make me more competitive. I went to Cal State Los Angeles where I was part of a program that funded me to conduct research: they paid my tuition and I received a salary! I found that I enjoyed research and decided to pursue a Ph.D. at UC Irvine, which is where I am currently. As an undergrad, the only thing I knew about Ph.D.s were that the professors had them to teach. I never thought it was something I could do, but as they say, never say never!

HCCLU: What are you doing research on?

MF: My research is in atmospheric chemistry. I am studying the fundamental chemistry behind particle growth in the atmosphere. It is important to know how these particles grow because they affect visibility, climate, and health.

HCCLU: How do you hope to be a mentor to others?

MF: I’d like to offer up my experiences to others, especially those who may be in the same shoes that I once was. I am a first-generation college student: that means I didn’t really have a familial support system to lean back on, because no one had gone through what I was going through. Also, I am a Hispanic woman in STEM, which are two groups that are underrepresented. If I could offer any advice or just be an ear to listen to, then I would be satisfied. It helps to surround yourself with people going through the same situations so you can lift each other up.

HCCLU: Regarding you saying how you’re a Hispanic female in the STEM field, how do you think that makes you stand out? How does it make you feel?

MF: I’d like to think that being a Hispanic female doesn’t make me stand out. I’ve been lucky enough to attend schools that have a pretty diverse program. However, it is definitely something that I am aware of. I’ve been in certain group situations where I may be the only Hispanic, or maybe one of a few and for me personally, it definitely makes me feel a little different. These feelings I think make the case for stronger diversity in STEM: individuals shouldn’t feel different in group settings.

HCCLU: Do you see yourself as a mentor to your younger sisters? To other girls?

MF: I am the oldest to two sisters and I’d say I do consider myself a mentor. They both are attending community college and they ask for advice about classes and transferring to a university, so any educational advice they seek, I am happy to give it. It’s important to make sure that younger girls are encouraged to pursue whatever their heart desires.

HCCLU: Do you have a piece of advice you have for girls who want to go into the STEM field?

MF: Don’t count yourself out! So many times, myself included, women look at qualifications for a job or for a task and if they see or think they don’t meet just one of the qualifications, they completely discount themselves. Jump in with both feet and even if you fall, at least you can say you tried.

Leslie Madrigal

Cal Lutheran '20

Hello, my name is Leslie Madrigal. I am a senior at Cal Lutheran double-majoring in Criminal Justice and Spanish with a minor in Ethnic Studies! Besides being a part of Her Campus, I am also the Co-President for the Latin American Student Organization, Vice President of My Generation My Fight, and Secretary for the Criminal Justice Student Association. I work on campus at the Office of the President as well as having an off campus job in retail. And I volunteer for the Safe Passage Program through the Criminal Justice Department.
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