6 Cal Poly Women Get Real About Being in STEM

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be pursuing a field surrounded by people who look nothing like you? Living in a world that teaches women the importance of how they look, not the impact that they can create with what they build? Read on to hear about the unique experiences that have shaped these six inspirational Cal Poly women in STEM!

Name: Amy Chin

Major: Civil Engineering

Hometown: Stockton, California

Fun Fact: “Instead of using all my fingers to type, I mainly use my index fingers and thumbs.”

Civil Engineering student Amy Chin first decided on her major when she job shadowed her uncle for her high school senior project. Fascinated by his interesting stories and with bridges, she applied for Civil Engineering as her major.

Although being a woman in STEM can be a struggle, Amy suggests to change this mindset. “My advice would to be yourself and not afraid to put yourself out there. I think many companies want to see more women in the STEM field, so being a woman should not hinder you in any way. Use that as a point to help boost yourself and see it as something positive. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask lots of questions if a career in STEM is something you may want to do," she said. 

Name: Jana Isabel N. Gervacio

Major: Biological Sciences, History Minor

Hometown: She resides in Santa Maria, CA, but grew up in the Philippines

Fun Fact: “I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim in about 12 hours! That’s 23.5 miles, almost marathon distance, going down from 6,860 feet and then back up to 8,241 feet on the other side!”

Growing up, Biological Sciences student Jana Isabel N. Gervacio had envisioned herself dancing her way into a future of black leotards and pink canvas ballet shoes --  a ballet dancer. “I looked the part, but clothes don’t make you more flexible or remember the choreography better,” she said.

She first realized that her skills were more inclined towards the sciences through her volunteer work catering to hospice patients. She amuses that the experience steered her away from being a doctor, “I’m not caring, nor patient enough to be there for someone in their time of need. I especially didn’t want to be a nurse.” However, when she sat down and went through what she wanted and did not want to do in life, she found that pharmacy was the best career match for her. In fact, she is currently on track to become a pharmacist. She is involved in the Pharmacy Club and currently works as a practicing and licensed Pharmacy Technician where she “loves every second of it.” “Pharmacists have mobility, stability and flexibility in their career and life. I’ve already considered other options, and nothing beats this one," she said.

Throughout her experience, Jana has struggled with making mistakes. With these mistakes, comes a fear that she does not belong in. “More often than not,” she adds, “it’s the mistakes that gets noticed, not the hundred times you did it perfectly.” In fact, making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing. “Mistakes are proof that we’ve tried, we haven’t given up. It’s a learning opportunity,” Jana said.

Her advice to young girls who want to pursue STEM? Do it. “People will try to break you, but you can always put the pieces back together, learn from it, and be better despite of the hardships,” she said. Her last piece of advice is this: “Invest in yourself, you’re your best asset!”

Name: Rebecca Krieger

Major: Software Engineering & Psychology

Hometown: Palo Alto, California

Fun Fact: “I’m a master of puns.”

Imagine doing a book report on a dated book about making friends that included a questionnaire on being the perfect wife with questions like, “Do you refrain from criticizing his choice of secretary, or the hours he keeps?” as well as, “Can you hold your husband's intellectual interest?" Software Engineering & Psychology double major student Rebecca Krieger was appalled to be reading something so sexist for her Introduction to Electrical Engineering class.

In fact, Rebecca almost quit engineering during her sophomore year. She walked into the head of the department’s office and said, “I’m done.” He told her to give it a week. This same week, she attended a computer science conference and feeling down, she headed to a coffee shop by herself. Here, she met Isis Anchalee, the female engineer who created the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag. “I realized if she could deal with sexual harassment from her coworkers and Twitter, I could handle it from my classmates and ex-manager,” Rebecca said. She also realized that her experiences has given her the ability to offer support to others who may have faced similar struggles. Rebecca is even starting her own hashtag to end sexual harassment in tech: #stopthisSHIT.

Although she may be starting her own social media movement now, in the future Rebecca strives to create her own robotics company focused on building tools to help people with disabilities. “Growing up, disability was a major topic in my family, so this seems like a natural way to combine my interests and what I am learning, not to mention it fulfills a societal need,” she said.

Name: Alexa Balbuena

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Hometown: San Ramon, California

Fun Fact: “I like to play with 3D puzzles and special types of rubik’s cubes.”

From the start, Biomedical Engineering student Alexa Balbuena knew she wanted to pursue a technical science like engineering because she loved the hands-on aspect of it and enjoyed math and science. She is passionate about biomedical engineering in particular because she aspires to work with medical devices in the brain. “I think there is a lot that we can learn from in neuroscience and I would like to implement that research with our developing technologies today,” she said.

Despite the initial impression of the engineering gender gap in college which came as a surprise, the Cal Poly community has been welcoming. However, she believes that efforts should still be made towards increasing diversity within STEM. She suggests bringing more programs to introduce STEM as a viable option for women. “We all know it is a male dominated field, but others tend to forget that it doesn't necessarily need to be,” she said. She describes STEM as a “lot of hard work, but worth every ounce of effort you put into it.”

Name: Louise Ibuna

Major: Software Engineering

Hometown: Arroyo Grande, California

Fun Fact: “I like to play video games, jogging and food adventures!”

Coming into Cal Poly as a transfer student from her tight-knit community at Allan Hancock College, Software Engineering student Louise Ibuna was overwhelmed being “one of three girls in a room full of guys.” Another change that Louise had to adjust to was the learning curve of the technologies specific to computer science classes at Cal Poly. “On the first day of class, we were playing around with the UNIX terminal and most of the students knew how to use it. I never learned how to use the terminal at AHC, neither did most of the transfer students,” she said. Despite all of these changes, Louise is excited to use these experiences as learning opportunities.

One way she has been able to integrate herself into the Cal Poly community is through joining clubs. In particular, she is involved in the cybersecurity and hacking club White Hat as well as Women Involved in Software and Hardware (WISH). Attending White Hat’s workshops about hardware security has solidified her interest in the realm of cybersecurity. On the other hand, WISH is a club that supports female computing majors. “Being in this club has increased my confidence as a women in STEM, especially transitioning from a small to large student body. I also gained a network of friends and mentors who helped me with my transition,” Louise said.

Louise believes that mentorship is key for increasing the number of women who enter these fields. In fact, the support system of friends and counselors that she had in community college was one of the main reasons why she decided to pursue STEM. Although a risk, she considers it “one of the best decisions made.” One of her goals as a woman in STEM is to inspire other women to follow their passion regardless of background or circumstances. “I feel that my commitment in my education and going out to the workforce will demonstrate to women that I don’t let my background as a woman hold me back from chasing my dreams," she said. 

Name: Prescott Delzell

Major: Industrial Engineering

Hometown: Chino, California

Fun Fact: “I’m a total musical theatre geek!”

Upon walking into Mott Gym during WOW Week to meet up with the entire College of Engineering, Industrial Engineering student Prescott Delzell was shocked to see a clear majority of men. “However, after that initial moment of shock, I realized that it wasn’t going to change anything. I was still an engineering student and just as qualified to rock it in my major as they were, so that’s what I’m continuing to do!” she said.

Prescott was originally drawn to industrial engineering for its versatility. “Since it is all about optimization of products and processes, it can go into legitimately any field,” she said. She also enjoys that it “satisfies both my nerdy and people-oriented sides.” In the future, Prescott hopes to work for the Walt Disney Company. “Every time I walk into Disneyland, anything I may be worried about flies from my mind and I am nothing less than ecstatic. I can’t imagine anything better than working to create that same happiness for others too!” Prescott said.

In spite of all of the struggles that women face being a minority in STEM, Prescott’s approach is to take these hardships and turn them into sources of inspiration. "You’re going to feel intimidated and you’re going to feel scared, but that’s good!” she said. “Use that intimidation to power you to your success. You’re going to face these problems every day, but you’re also going to overcome them and come out the other side as a better woman, a better human being, and as a woman in STEM.”

On the topic of diversity, she is adamant about its importance to society. “Right now, the world is facing issues stemming from a lack of understanding and tolerance for people who are different from what we’re used to,” Prescott said. She believes that STEM is facing a similar issue when young girls are subjected to gender roles and stereotypes. “We need to get rid of the stereotypes and gender roles completely. Stop treating women like they any less capable of a career in STEM than men are. It’s hard to break stereotypes and there’s still work to be done, but I truly believe that we are well on our way in the right direction," she said.