Wavy Girls’ Spotlight: Angie Gonzalez

STEM Wavy Girl Spotlight

Happy Monday y’all! It’s a brand new week and I’m super excited to brighten up your day with a new and candid Wavy Girls spotlight interview. I had the chance to interview Angie Gonzalez, who identifies as a queer Latinx woman in STEM and who recently graduated from NYU with a BS in Physics and a BS in Electrical Engineering (are you as impressed as I am yet??).

In the past, Angie has worked at NASA and Harris Corporation, and has garnered a NACME Scholarship, an INROADS Internship, and a Latinx Visiones Scholarship through INROADS. In addition to her academic excellence, Angie is passionate about social justice, diversity, and inclusion. She was the President of oSTEM at NYU, the Lead Mentor for the Hurricane Maria Mentorship Program at NYU, and is currently an Admissions Director for the Out for Undergrad Engineering Conference. For her Point Foundation Community Service Project, Angie created a created an Instagram page (@OutInEngineering) to engage high school students, college students, and young professionals in conversations surrounding marginalized identities and professionalism. In September, Angie will start a full-time position as a GLOS Engineer at Northrop Grumman.

I had the chance to ask Angie about her experience at NYU and the steps she took before graduation, how she’s planning on navigating adulthood, and what’s inspired her throughout it all. Read on for one of the most sincere and entertaining interviews you’ll lay your eyes on; I promise you’ll walk away feeling inspired!

When you first came into NYU was a 5-year track your initial plan? How did you feel when you came to the realization that it would take you 5 years to graduate, and what would you tell someone who is feeling discouraged about a change in their own plans?

When I was in high school, my physics teacher encouraged me to apply into engineering programs and top physics programs across the country. I didn’t know what engineering was, but I did know that I was good at physics. NYU had this unique program where I would be able to obtain both a BS in physics and a BS in electrical engineering, which is one of the reasons why I applied Early Decision to NYU. I was a little bummed about the program as the years went on at NYU when I realized I wouldn’t graduate with the class I came in with. However, I am thankful for the program because I was able to take my time with some courses and also take advantage of one extra summer for an internship. I had an extra year to get my life together and decide what my next steps were going to be. With two STEM degrees, the world is in your hands – there are almost too many career choices. Having that extra year definitely helped, since I was able to attend conferences and take advantage of networking opportunities across NYC. 

For anyone who is feeling discouraged with a change in their own plans, I would tell them that nothing is linear. Everyone’s journey looks different and it’s okay if it’s not that 4-year trajectory that you initially anticipated it being. I can’t speak to changing majors, but I would like to say that all of my friends who dropped the pre-med track have been happier in their experience. They recognized what their true passions are, which I think is the whole point of college. If it’s anytime to be unsure and confused, it’s during college. Although a mistake may cost you your summer term or an extra semester, it will be worth it in the long-run when you make a career out of your passions. If I could go back in time, I would choose to either do a BS/MS program in electrical engineering or take 5 years pursuing a BS in electrical engineering while taking a semester or two to do a co-op to gain additional industry experience. 

What steps did you take during your last year to prepare for life after graduation? What emotions did you face and how did you deal with them? 

Wowza, this is SUCH A LOADED question. So, during my 4th year at NYU, I spent A LOT of time focusing on professional development. I started to get involved in professional organizations because I realized that I needed to step-up my networking skills and secure an internship for the summer. During my 4th year, I also decided that I wanted to learn more about PhD programs and in what ways could I utilize my summer and 5th year to best prepare to enter into one. I met with many of my professors to learn about their journeys into academia – and to my surprise, most of them were not linear. A lot of them went into industry first and found their way back into academia. Through meeting with my professors during their office hours, I was able to learn about ways I could make my resume/applications poppin’ for PhD programs. Office hours aren’t just an opportunity to get help on that tricky problem set, but also for mentorship opportunities. I wish I knew to take advantage of my professors earlier in my college career and would definitely advise all college students to take advantage earlier! 

During the Fall of my 5th year, I made it my mission to attend as many networking events and conferences as possible to help enhance my graduate school applications. I would be the first in my family to get a PhD, so I had literally zero idea of what this road looked like. Everything was going great and “linear” with my graduate school applications (y’all should see my Google Drive, omg), until I attended the SHPE conference and received two job offers I did not expect and numerous invites to go on-site for interviews for five other companies. To be honest, I received my first offer not even knowing I was interviewing for a full-time position until 3/4s of the way into the interview! Once I received the offer, everything changed. I was extremely emotional because this job offer meant moving to California and leaving behind my family and girlfriend in New York. But, fortunately, I was there with the director of my program at NYU, who encouraged me to consider the offer and that everything else will follow. I mean, who could turn down a job offer to a company like Northrop Grumman?!??!

The one thing that changed my mind about graduate school immediately after undergrad was that my company helps pay for their employees to get Master’s degrees in engineering. At that point, how could I really say no to that?! 

Is there any particular woman in your life who has directly impacted your life and inspired you to pursue your current endeavors?

To be honest, I couldn’t name a single woman in the world that I wanted to “be like,” since there weren’t any I knew of when I started college. I would say my biggest motivation is my family. I am a first-generation college student, the first in my family to attend a private university, and the first to pursue a STEM major. My mom, sister, and nieces are my motivation. Also, I think someone who is very important to me is my step-dad, Joey, who passed away during my sophomore year at NYU. His passing reminded me that I needed to get through college because it wasn’t just about me. It was about making my family proud, my community in Brooklyn proud, and all those who are “like me” proud. Pressure’s on! 

Joey was always putting me first, even when he sacrificed his couch (aka my bed for my first two years of college) since I didn’t get approved for the loan that would’ve allowed me to live on-campus in a residence hall. I really owe it to him for allowing my education to be possible without putting myself into more debt. 

During your undergraduate career what would you say was your biggest regret or mistake? And what is something that you believe you excelled at? Why do you believe you excelled at it?

I really wish that I spent less time being nervous and more time being fearless. During my first two years at NYU, I literally felt so out of place in my science and math classes. I was surrounded by a bunch of boys, white kids, and Asian kids who I assumed knew what they were doing or had parents who understood what their journey would look like. I wish I didn’t have that mindset or made those assumptions, because I was so nervous to ask questions in class. I was afraid of looking like the dumb girl or Latinx kid in the class. Along the way, I learned that there were a lot more people like me – meaning, they were first-generation college students who also had no idea how this whole academic institution worked. I wish I didn’t let the voices in my head win that fight, because I definitely missed out on many opportunities for connections with professors, making new friends, and advancing my own journey into the STEM world.

What are some difficulties you faced as a Latinx woman in the LGBTQ+ community as a STEM major during your time at NYU? How did you deal with them, and would you have dealt with them differently knowing what you do now?

I think the greatest difficulty was finding other people like me. As a woman, you know when you walk into any classroom at NYU Tandon on any given day, you’re going to be one of a handful of women in the room. As a Latinx person, you know you’re going to be one of literally less than 5 people in a classroom. It’s easier to identify other women and Latinx people in the classroom, but it’s never an easy task to identify other queer folks in the room. Mix those three identities together and you’ve got #AngieInSTEM, aka, a queer, Latina woman in STEM – something that is SUPER rare to find in ANY of the STEM fields. 

Going off on the last question, what do you want to tell other women of color about being fearless and unapologetic? How would you advise others to embrace their identity and face the world with confidence?

Can I say that men ain’t shit? Because honestly, that’s what got me through it all. My first couple of engineering courses were difficult because I was hyper aware of the lack of women and marginalized people of color in the classroom. They say it’s good to acknowledge the space you’re in in order to combat imposter syndrome – I do believe that’s true, but it does take a lot of time to get used to. It took me slaying in the classroom to finally gain that confidence. I started to ask questions during class, yell out my answers with confidence (even if it was wrong), and request meetings with my professors and TAs outside of class to catch up on concepts. I was secure in who I was and didn’t let any men, TAs, or professors speak down to me or in ways that offended me. I knew that I had resources to turn to in case I came across some foolery, which I think is the ultimate reason why I stopped caring about what other people thought about me. In my last two years of school, there have always been people who have thanked me for speaking up, asking questions in class, and even for negotiating exam dates with professors. I’m a force to work with, but you need to be in a good environment in order to perform your best. I was not letting any man get in my way.

With everything that you do, what would you say is your key to balancing it all? Have you ever had to sacrifice something to make space in your schedule or have you had to make a tough decision when it comes to your different involvements?

I think in terms of time management, using google calendar has been a life-saver. It kept me on schedule and reminded me up things that I may have easily forgotten, especially things like pop-up meetings or coffee dates with people. I also used a planner to keep up with assignments and my Reminders app to remind me to do smaller tasks that maybe wouldn’t show up on my calendar, such as doing laundry, cleaning my bathroom, or ordering food for my next hall program.

I’ve definitely had to sacrifice club involvement and other leadership opportunities throughout my time at NYU, but I think the clubs I chose to stay involved in were worth it. There was at a point during my sophomore year where I was TOO involved because I didn’t know how to say “no.” By the end of my sophomore year, I started to value my time a lot more and learned that it was okay to say, “no.”

I also think something I sacrificed from my 2nd-4th years was my health, which is something I wish I paid a lot more attention to. During my freshman year, I joined the club softball team, but I had to quit because of my other involvements. By the end of my 4th year, I reached a point where I didn’t feel comfortable looking at myself in the mirror. During the summer between my 4th and 5th year, I started going to CrossFit and eating healthier while away in Florida for a summer internship.

When I got back to NYU for the Fall semester, I had to fit going to CrossFit 5 days a week into my schedule and also the cost of membership into my budget. It was a tough decision on my time management and budget to continue CrossFit, but ultimately, it was worth it for my physical and mental health. While it was a lot to balance a leadership role, going to CrossFit, and having 3 work-study jobs, I was able to do it since my workload was a lot less rigorous than past years. I don’t feel that I sacrificed much my senior year, but I do think I said “no” to many more opportunities than I have previously. I think once you find your community, your people, and your space, you can dedicate your 100% to that rather than giving 60% to many commitments. 

Now that you’ve graduated, what do you see yourself doing throughout the next couple of years? Do you have a game plan?

To be honest, I don’t really have a game plan. I think going to Palmdale to work for Northrop Grumman will give me a chance to have an entirely new experience that is away from NYU, Brooklyn, New York, and the East Coast. I want to take the new two years of my rotational program to really find out what I want to be doing with my degrees. I know that I am definitely going to get my Master’s – I am literally going to submit my application to USC for an MS in Electrical Engineering the second they (Northrop Grumman) tell me I’m able to apply. But, I am unsure if I’m going to stay in the defense/aerospace industry or in California. I want to take advantage of the time I have now, because I have the freedom to travel, move around, and try different things. I want to be open to new opportunities and experiences, before I have to start thinking about settling down and starting a family. 

What is one quote you think every Wavy Girl should live by?

Whatever you’re questioning – just go for it. If you have a question to ask in class, ask it. If you need to meet with your professor, meet with them. If you want to send a cold e-mail, do it! The worst thing that they could say is, “no,” but you’ll never find out if you never ask. Push yourself out of your comfort zone – you will gain many, many opportunities if you do. Do not expect something to just roll your way – you have to fight for it, especially if you’re a Wavy Girl! 

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