Case One: Alicia

Alicia was a Mechanical Engineering major who graduated from the program during the course of the study. She grew up on the Mexican side of the border, where she did her K-12 schooling in private schools in Ciudad Juarez. Although she moved to the United States after she was accepted into college, she crossed the border on a weekly basis to visit her family. Her father worked in the medical field in Mexico, which made her consider going to medical school for several years. Her mother was an engineer who gave up her career to take care of Alicia and Alicia s little sister; at the time of the study, her mother assisted her father at the private clinic they had in Juarez. Alicia reported that her family was always supportive of her and her academic decisions. In terms of language experiences, Alicia expressed feeling more comfortable using Spanish to communicate during teamwork interactions. She said that only once during her undergraduate studies did she have to use English to communicate with her team, and although her first language was not English, she reported being able to understand and communicate effectively.

One of Alicias reported passions was going to the gym, so after being admitted to college she started taking boxing classes, where she met another female student who was about to graduate. That student recommended the Mechanical Engineering program to Alicia. After that conversation, Alicia declared ME as her major and started her pathway in engineering.

For Alicia, having friends, especially female friends, was an important source of academic and emotional support during her undergraduate studies. However, after her close friend Julia graduated a semester before her own scheduled graduation, she felt alone and isolated:

El semestre pasado ya me toco sin ella у send сото si acababa de entrar a la escuela. Entonces, si, este semestre si ando сото que muy solita, sin amigos, no conocia a nadie en las clases, porque todos se habian graduado de que antes о asi. [“Last semester I was without her and I felt like I just had entered school. Then, this semester, I am very lonely, without friends, I don’t know anyone in the classes, because all have graduated or so.”]

(authors own translation)

In one interview, she expressed aloud that maybe engineering was not for women after all, based on her own instances of feeling relegated to the sidelines. One instance took place after an episode involving a final project with her team, where her teammates requested that she change the fonts on the written product and that she work to make the presentation more aesthetically appealing, but she did not have the opportunity to contribute in a substantive way to the content of the final project. In one interview, she summarized this perception from male counterparts in the following way:

Si sentiamos mucho de que hasta los mismos ninos con los que platica- bamos era сото que, ‘Ay,’ о sea, сото que, о sea, para mi, graduarme es сото un super logro porque сото que siento que todos ellos pensaban que no, сото que: ‘Ay, Alicia no va a poder,’ ‘Ay, Alicia no se que.’ . . . сото que nos trataban asi сото que: ‘Ay, ellas si estan tontas’. . . . [“We felt very much that even the boys with whom we talked were like ‘Ay,’ ... it was like . . . for me, graduating was a super achievement because I feel that all of them were thinking, like, ‘Ay, Alicia is not going to make it’, ‘Ay, Alicia, I don’t know’ . . . like they treated us like . . . ‘They [girls] are dumb’. . . .”].

(author’s own translation)

During her second interview, which took place one month prior to her graduation from ME, Alicia expressed not having a clear idea of what she would do after graduation. She was on the fence about whether to pursue a master’s in engineering or to go into the business world by opening her own yoga studio in Juarez. She expressed that she had her father’s financial support for either option. After graduation, she ended up doing a travel tour through Asia for six weeks with friends. After that experience, another friend contacted her to offer her a job at a company outside of the field of engineering. She worked at that company for a couple of months before starting her master’s in Civil/Environmental Engineering.

During her final interview one year after graduating with her bachelor’s, Alicia expressed feeling happy to be back in school, as she missed the routine of going to classes and to the gym. She was also happy that her new program was more dynamic, hands-on, and required more time in the field than her undergraduate program. In her final interview, she shared her plans to apply to an internship the following year, and she expressed wanting to continue living on the border because being close to her family was important to her.

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