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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: A Chat with Dr. Paulina Diaz Montiel

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Paulina Diaz-Montiel, PhD

September 15th to October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. This month we honor the achievements, influence and innovation of Latino leaders, individuals and communities, and how their contributions have been woven into our nation’s history.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we chat with Paulina Diaz Montiel, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, to share her story about how her culture and heritage shaped her professional trajectory. I heard.

When did you decide that you wanted to be an engineer?

In high school, I realized that I liked my physics and math classes. I was curious about materials and how they break, deform and fail. After discovering the statics and mechanics of the material class, it confirmed my curiosity.

Did your family play a role in shaping your path to becoming an engineer?

The way I see the world and the decisions I make are greatly influenced by my family, where I grew up, and all the people I grew up with. think. In a diverse community, we may have a better understanding of the way we see the world if others come to see what shapes us. How people behave and what they need Understanding what is going on will help you make better decisions for your community in the future.

Both of my parents helped me find my love for engineering. My father is an engineer and my mother is an accountant. When I was young, we moved to Spain for a few years and understood what it meant to pursue a PhD. I was part of that research community. That experience helped me decide how to pursue my career.

Have you experienced any cultural challenges in pursuing your career?

When I was a child, my mother’s friend asked her: My mom explained these were two separate things. Hispanic culture tends to be male-dominated. It’s not that girls aren’t capable of doing these things, but culturally there are still biases about what fields they can study in. Our culture defines the careers we choose. This raises questions and concerns for Latino girls growing up.

But there are many career options out there. If you’re a female engineering student and have had these questions at some point during your school days, keep going! Go for what makes you happy!

Did you have a mentor who encouraged you to pursue a career in engineering?

My dissertation supervisor, Prof. Thatch Venkataraman, one of my greatest mentors. He helped me become an independent researcher, think critically, and pursue my passion of teaching and mentoring students. During my graduate studies, Professor Satchi always looked for ways to help me succeed and guided my transition as a university professor. I am forever grateful to have had him as my mentor.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a professor?

I believe that education is transformative. Education can transform lives, cities and governments, and empower people to tackle society’s most pressing challenges. I was inspired by this and decided that I wanted to become a professor in order to help my students become holistic and global citizens who make a difference in the world they inherited. I liked it and realized I liked it when I had the opportunity to tutor and teach classes in college and graduate school. I enjoy getting to know my students and love helping them grow and reach their goals. It’s a rewarding job for me.

How did you define and experience diversity as a college student?

I got my bachelor’s degree in Mexico. At that time, I was surrounded by only Mexican students, so I didn’t have the concept of diversity. The first time I felt diversity was when I moved to San Diego. There are very few places in the world where culture, language, food and music come together like this, and San Diego is one of them. As an engineering student attending graduate school in the city, I found that collaborating with people from diverse backgrounds generally led to a more productive and rewarding work environment. Today, as a professor and academic, my goal is to achieve inclusive excellence in my classes and labs, where students feel respected and supported despite our unique differences. It’s about nurturing the environment. I believe this is the key to starting conversations and facilitating the exchange of ideas and knowledge.

What advice would you give to a Latino student thinking about studying engineering?

Embrace your identity and be yourself. Your view of the world is unique and important. Sharing your culture, background and experience positively impacts our future and the decisions we make for our community.

I think Hispanic Heritage Month is an interesting occasion to celebrate the diversity of our community. Think about how important representatives are, how they fit in with other cultures and learn from each other.

— Michel Stupkay

For more information on National Hispanic Heritage Month, visit hispanicheritagemonth.gov.

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