Mariana Cabrera’s Road to engineering was not by chance, she made things happen!
Spending her childhood in Mexico, Mariana thought that she would have a lot of decisions made for her. The support system she had was able to afford two options for higher education. Move to another state in Mexico and attend a public university or stay home and attend a private institution. She took a leap of faith and left home, but she is now happy to confirm that it was the right decision.
During her impressionable years of growing up, Mariana had a chance to be exposed to the world of engineering through her family.
“My dad was a cofounder of an astronomy club, and they did an end-of-year trip to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, and I went with him,” said Cabrera.
As Mariana explained, her curiosity during this trip sparked a new passion, as she initially wanted to be a writer. More specifically, a novelist for teens. But while on the tour, she wandered off a little bit, as kids do, and found herself peering into one of the windows at the space center.
“Whenever I tell this story, I say that they may have been planning lunch or I don't know, just gathering amongst work friends. But in that moment, I thought they may be planning the next step of humankind,” said Cabrera.
As they say, the rest is history. Mariana was fascinated with that possibility and had to know how she could be a part of the future.
Now, sometimes our passions fizzle out, or an unexpected variable leads us down a new path.
Cabrera was able to avoid that fate as she looks back, “I didn't ever feel like I didn't belong. It was hard, but thankfully peers, whether at school or at my company, were very supportive and made me feel like I belong."
As she made her way through university, Mariana’s hard work put her in a position to get experience immediately.
“I studied aerospace engineering, and in the last year of my university I was very lucky to get a scholarship from one company. I did an internship at that company as a mechanical design engineer and ended up having a job offer. So straight out of college, I started working as a mechanical designer," said Cabrera.
She makes it sound easy, right? In reality, the road to a great entry job as an engineer can be very challenging. Mariana experienced the impact that can be had when preparation meets opportunity, because when the time came, she excelled.
“I believe it was 2018, I got an outstanding engineer award. It's an award given to the top 3% of the entire company and I was nominated, and I won. So, to be in the top 3% of a huge global company makes me feel proud of myself,” said Cabrera.
Following up with a basic question, what about the daily duties as an engineer keep her coming back for more?
“Solving problems,” said Cabrera, which is keeping the answer simple. She added “For a long time, I thought it actually came from engines. Engineering, engines, make sense. However, in Spanish we say ingeniera, it comes from ingenio, which is ingenuity. So, you don't have to be building trains to be an engineer. Engineering is having the ingenuity to solve whatever type of problem that you have on hand."
A common problem in engineering is the demographics, as women are the overwhelming minority. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of engineering roles held by women has increased, but men still make up the vast majority. However, these statistics didn’t stop Mariana, as she still feels like she can do anything.
“My generation grew up thinking engineering and science was for guys, and that does stay in your mind. There are mental barriers, imposter syndrome to deal with, but I think women sometimes don't realize all the amazing work that they are doing,” she said.
At Mariana’s previous company, she learned about a group working with women to help build networks in the engineering world. Starting as a member, she quickly became very passionate about this group and wanted to contribute as a chapter lead.
And she did, not only as a part of this group, where many of the women were already engineers, but Mariana felt the urge to inspire young kids in the surrounding communities to consider a STEM career too.
Paraphrasing one of the speakers she heard at a conference, “If you have the curiosity about engineering then you belong in engineering, and I guess that really resonated with me,” said Cabrera.
Mariana talked about what it was like to come from a small town in Mexico, as her career allowed her to explore ventures in the United States. She is proud to be part of the engineering culture that she finds herself in now. For a long time, she felt that those who migrate to the United States are not on the same level as their peers or other industry standards.
She quickly found out how wrong she was, “I don't think that anymore. We are more than capable of doing the same work as our counterparts here in the United States. I feel very lucky and proud to be able to participate and show everybody that it doesn't matter where you come from, whether your school was good, bad, public, private. It's up to the person,” said Cabrera.
Mariana is living proof of her own theory, but she continues to exceed expectations, “I do believe that we can come from any place. I come from a very, very small town in Mexico and now I practice engineering from New York. You know, that's kind of like a dream situation? I never would have thought that I would have this opportunity.”
But here she is still standing, making things work.