One of my strongest beliefs that drives me towards achieving every goal I set and every action I take towards success is that as a woman I am capable of performing at the same level and capacity as my male counterparts, if not even better. I’ve never associated my gender with my potential and my greatest desire is that this mindset will one day be the default, and that as women of color we won’t have to face the higher degree of discrimination that comes with both identities. Although women constitute for half of the total diploma-holding workforce the sad reality is that they only make up 29% of the engineering and science workforce; to make it worse, less than 10% of these women come from racial minority backgrounds (source). Our Wavy Girl Diana Lee Guzmán however does not feel defeated by these statistics for she has been a leader on campus for other Xicanas who are breaking the glass ceiling in STEM fields.
Diana grew up in a predominantly Latinx and low-income region in Phoenix, AZ and is now a junior studying Computer Science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. While she was very involved on campus during her four years at Carl Hayden Community High school- partaking in extracurriculars such as StuGo, Class Club, Volleyball, Basketball, Cheer, and Softball- it was the Robotics Team that really impacted her high school experience and made her aware of her love and strength in math and technology, eventually influencing her career choice. After much convincing by her mentor Ledge Diana became exceedingly involved in the Robotics team as a senior. Feeling inspired and nurtured by her mentor’s encouragement she felt as if she should pursue Mechanical or Civil Engineering, but as soon as she began college she saw an opportunity to explore and experiment with programming and ultimately decided on Computer Science.
She was just recently in Shanghai taking an NYU course sponsored by Google Ventures and ACCESS Health China, will participate in a The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Hackathon, and is constantly raising awareness through social media on issues affecting her community. Diana’s adventurous and daring personality and curiosity set her apart from the rest, and her dedication to represent her heritage while flourishing academically and professionally is admirable; she is unstoppable. I feel honored to have Diana as a peer here at NYU and to have interviewed her, and I only hope you all feel as inspired and reinvigorated reading her answers as I did.
As you are nearing your senior year, what is one memorable experience that taught you one of the most indispensable life lessons in college? What is one thing you wish you would have known sooner?
I wish I would have known that it was okay for me to feel the things I was feeling at the beginning of my college career. Often, I felt alone and that wasn’t because there weren’t other people out there like me or feeling what I was, but mostly because I was closed off and I never felt like I needed such a strong support group before then. I wish I would have known all of the resources that college offered you and I only knew what was out there through newsletters and the information that staff shared. I wish I would have felt more comfortable with myself from the beginning. My abilities, my culture, my class, a lot of things I was confused about because I never had to question it before. I look back and I obviously learned so much about myself and I am still coming to terms with a lot of things but I love who I am, where I come from and my abilities that I am able to smash all of the voices (real and unreal) that attempt to weigh me down.
Is there any particular woman in your life or in the media who has influenced and inspired you to pursue your current endeavors? What characteristics do you aim to emulate from her?
I don’t have one woman in particular who has inspired me but bits and pieces many. My mother will always be the most inspirational woman in my life because I know all that she has sacrificed for her family and how hard she works for us. Just her as a woman, I admire her. The older I become, the more and more I love and respect her, I don’t know what I would do without her. She is my rock.
I have been inspired by other women as well. Marie Curie was the first woman that I admired for her breakthroughs in science, especially at a time where women weren’t accepted as vital parts of society. I also adored Cecilia Payne for her PhD thesis on Stellar atmospheres (she discovered that hydrogen was the main constituent of stars). I am most inspired by Frida Kahlo, the Mexican revolutionary woman who shook the bones of men around her. She is my favorite and my room is decorated with her unibrow. She inspired me to love myself. I also have two friends of mine, Maria Castro and Anna Flores, who I confide in and look up to. Maria is an organizer in our community who dauntlessly fights to protect our lives and liberties. She showed me how to admire and connect to my community. Anna is amazing for all sorts of reasons. She is someone I can speak to about the not-so-normal things that go on in my mind and my life and we can speak very intimately about the things that impale us. Anna has taught me to be truthful about how I feel and being unashamed about it.
For many girls STEM fields can be very scary and intimidating and so they shy away, but it’s becoming more and more common for employers to require some experience with technology such as coding and computer science. What do you think was/is the most challenging part of learning robotics and programming? What is your favorite and/or most rewarding part about the courses you are taking? And what would you say to other girls who are interested in majoring in STEM but are afraid or believe it’s not something they would be good at?
When it came to robotics, I luckily had a close friend of mine who was the President of our team at the time, Diserae Sanders, whom I was able to confide in. She taught me the basics of electrical components and the electronics we were using on the robot. Our mentor, Ledge, was also a very large influence and made me feel like I could basically wire up the whole thing!
When it came to Computer Science and programming, things were a lot more tough. I didn’t have any mentors to really lean on at the time and I didn’t understand the concepts as well because they were so abstract. How the hell does my compiler know what I am typing? What is cout? There were just a lot of walls that I kept hitting and it became even more frustrating when I saw that other students weren’t struggling as much, or so I thought at least. They would leave our 3 hour labs within the first half of the class and it made me very insecure with my abilities. I didn’t compile my first “hello world” until my first week in college and sometimes you’re up against your peers who have been coding since they were 12 years old. Shoot, I would have liked even having a year or two under my belt. My lack of confidence really set me back more than anything, it was this mentality that I wasn’t quite good enough and you know, the whole “imposter syndrome” began setting in. However, things quickly got better once I began my Sophomore year and was awarded the FIRST Evelyn Kamen Rising Star Award for my commitment to advancing STEM Education in under-served communities. I worked as a Robotics Instructor for the first 2 years of college and it was an amazing experience. It’s important to feel important.
The most rewarding part of my classes is when I am able to apply what I am learning to real world scenarios. The intro classes were fine and all but I just didn’t see how useful they were? Yeah sure, interview questions are about our basics, but I didn’t see how I would use it beyond that. Right now I am taking a Data Science class and a Computer Networking class and as time goes on, I fall more and more in love with what it is that I do. I am able to pull data and find meaningful information and see how our computers interact with one another and use tools to extract data that is actually very interesting. You get to see what protocols the internet uses, what ports are being communicated over and what kind of servers you are contacting.
For other young women who are interested in pursuing STEM careers, my best advice is to find mentorship. You need someone on your team that believes in you a little more than you believe in yourself. Find someone whom fits your persona and inspires you, uplifts you and understands you. We can’t do it alone.
One of the reasons, in my opinion, that STEM is so scary is the lack of women and minorities. Have you had any experiences where you were the only Latina in the classroom or in a group of people? How do you deal with the pressure of feeling like you must represent a whole demographic in a positive light? What do you do to motivate yourself when you feel like you failed or when you feel like others doubt your abilities because you are a Latina?
Most of the time I am the only Latinx muxer in the room. It’s something that I take note of the first day of classes and usually towards the end. It’s also very apparent when you are in an elevator of 15 people and you spot one other woman in the corner. It is sometimes stressful because you feel like you have to be this person that you cannot possibly be all the time. I do get tired, I do get very self-critical and I have been seeing a therapist for the past year now. Things get very tough, but I see them as growing pains. I have to find a balance of expressing myself but also making sure that I speak out for others as well. I have a lot of privilege as a Latinx womxn and I need to use it. I make sure I surround myself with people that inspire me. I couldn’t be who or where I am without the help from my supportive parents, friends and community. I am nothing without any of them.
Coming from a predominantly Latinx and low-income high school, to what degree did you experience culture shock once you got to NYU where the majority of students are white and/or wealthy? You say you became aware of your privileges, would you mind elaborating on that?
There was definitely culture shock coming to NYU and NYC in general. Phoenix, Arizona isn’t nearly as diverse as NYC. In Phoenix, 43.5% of the population is White, 42.9% is Hispanic, 6.6% is Black (source). In my community high school, 97% are minorities with 88% being economically disadvantaged. So coming to NYU, I saw students who didn’t receive scholarships, drove a Mercedes for their first car, wore Chanel tennis shoes and went to the Virgin Islands for their Spring Break. This was another thing I had to overcome, was the insecurities I felt because of my economic status. Over time, I became more and more comfortable with who I was and where I come from. I felt embarrassed at first when people would mention that their parents were business owners, engineers, nurses, doctors because my parents did not have a college education. There was a lot to swallow coming to NYU and I learned a lot about myself along the way that I am extremely grateful for NOW. However, I do have to say that I do have a large amount of privilege myself as I had mentioned earlier. In comparison to my community, my parents were better off than most which allowed me to play sports year-round and be more involved in high school because I didn’t have other responsibilities. A lot of students must work to help out their parents or pay their own phone bills, cars and just general necessities. I didn’t have the responsibilities of having to take care of any of my family members, physically or financially so I was more free to go across the country. My family and I are also documented which has allowed me to take out loans under my parents’ names. There are other students in my community who are more talented than I am and they simply just cannot afford an NYU education, the subway fees, the flights, the food, just basic living expenses. We can barely do that and like I said, my family is better off than most in my community.
You were involved in a lot of high school sports and extracurricular activities, but when did you know that enough was enough? How did you set boundaries so that you would not spread yourself too thin, if you did have any? How do you establish a balance today?
I actually didn’t know my limits in high school. I was able to handle everything because academics were not very tough and I had interests all over the board. I was a part of everything and I was able to do it pretty well. I didn’t know what boundaries were until I got to college and I tried to take 18 credits, work, be a board member of a club and also join the Air Force ROTC. LOL to say the least, I learned that I couldn’t spread myself too thin. I am most efficient when I am organized. I cannot sleep at night if I remembered that I had to do something and I didn’t write it down because I knew I would forget the next day. When I wake up in the morning, my planner needs to let me know what needs to be accomplished.
What does living a happy life mean to you? Do you believe you are living the best life you possibly can right now? And what do you think is the difference between settling and compromising when it comes to reaching happiness and achieving your goals?
Happiness is a strange word because nobody really knows how to define it but we know what it feels like. I believe I am very goal orientated, and I don’t know if it is a good or bad thing just yet, so I am most satisfied when I can attain my goals. I constantly want to learn about anything and everything for the sake of learning. I have a hard time compromising in terms of life options. I want the most out of it and that’s the only way I feel like I am living. I feel like if I have to compromise, then I am lying to myself and I believe we deserve to be truthful to ourselves. I don’t want to wake up in bed thinking I should have followed my dreams.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years and how have your goals changed throughout the trajectory of your education? What are you doing in order to achieve your dreams?
That’s a good question actually! There are 3 major milestones I want to hit in my lifetime and it goes a little something like this: Be a Software Engineer, Become an Astronaut, Become a Teacher. Ideally, it would be in that order but I am will take them as they come. There are lots of opportunities and life is too unpredictable to have anything on a specific timeline. As a result of my education and my support groups, my dreams have gotten bigger and wilder. I love it!
What is a quote you think every Wavy Girl should live by?
“You will never know what you will fall in love with if you never try it.”