Case Two: Daena
Daena was a Mechanical Engineering major who graduated during the study. She completed elementary and early middle school in Chihuahua,
Mexico, and finished her K—12 education in the United States. Her father worked as a mechanic in the construction field and did not complete postsecondary studies. Her mother graduated from nursing in Mexico but gave up her career to take care of Daena and her siblings. In terms of language, Daena expressed experiencing some struggle with her transition from speaking Spanish at school and home to being taught in and using English to communicate with classmates upon moving to the United States. She was observed using border varieties of both languages to communicate with classmates and friends but only English with professors or people with higher status.
From the time she was a child, Daena observed her father fixing cars, and she grew up with an interest in mechanics; she knew from a young age that this would be her professional pathway in the future. Because of her interest in mechanics and as a result of her sociability and outgoing nature, she got involved in mechatronics, robotics, and other team projects related to the engineering field during her high school years. These experiences led to opportunities to travel and participate in national competitions, which led to networking experiences during high school, particularly with one aeronautics company. She began her undergraduate studies at a different university from the one where this study took place, where she struggled unsuccessfully to gain admission into the engineering program. Given her struggle with the courses and requirements, she ultimately decided to transfer to the university where this study took place.
Daena expressed that having friendships was very important to her, particularly throughout her experiences of struggle and persistence to obtain her ME degree. She also shared that some of her previous friendships had turned into professional networking relationships. One in particular led to a job offer, which she ultimately took. She summed up her view of social capital in her career, stating that “people skills are very important,” especially in engineering.
Another experience that was important for Daena was being part of organizations, sororities, conferences, and public events related to the ME field. She was particularly drawn to being part of Hispanic engineering and Hispanic women engineering organizations. This was related to her clear expression of identity as being a “proud Latina,” which she demonstrated in a variety of ways. One of the clearest examples of this expression was in her founding and establishment of a female engineering student organization, which took place when she transferred to the university. Although she expressed being accustomed to being surrounded by men, her closest friends were “Hispanic females,” as she called them.
During her final semester in the ME program, she was interviewed by several companies. Before graduating, she had a job offer from an aeronautics company. The job offer stemmed from her friend-turned-professional- contact, who served as the CEO of the company.
Case Three: Andrea
Andrea was a Computer Science major who graduated during the study. She was raised on the US side of the United States-Mexico border, and completed all of her K—12 schooling in the United States. Her parents were 15 and 16 years old when they had her, and separated just months after her birth. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, neither of whom attended college. While growing up, she was really interested in videogames, a pastime she shared with her father, who had completed an online bachelor’s degree. In school, she was placed in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program from a young age. During high school, she earned good grades; she took college-level dual-credit coursework and demonstrated a strong interest in STEM-related courses.
Although Andrea was interested in CS during high school, she hesitated to follow that pathway. But one of her uncles, who was studying computer science at the university, encouraged her to pursue CS at the same school and offered to support her with her courses and assignments during her first year of college before he graduated. Despite being told that she was good at math and would thus make it in CS, Andrea was fearful of pursuing this major, which she attributed to persistent messages that she heard during high school about her not being ready for CS, as it was something that one needed to prepare for from an early age.
In spite of these hesitations, Andrea ultimately applied for admission to the CS program and was accepted. During her undergraduate studies, she received a scholarship to pay for her education with the support of her mentor, who was a faculty' member in CS and director of the scholarship program. Her scholarship required her to take a fast track by' taking dual— undergraduate and graduate—credits and to commit to an internship with the federal government.
One important learning experience for Andrea during her undergraduate studies was participating in professional conferences, including the Women’s Cybersecurity' Conference three years in a row with support from her mentor and financial support from the college. Participating in conferences gave her the opportunity' to be exposed to and get involved in specialized areas of the field. She highlighted the impact of participation in conferences, saying, “it’s a lot of networking where y'ou make connections and I still keep in contact with some people. And they give y'ou mentorship or revise your resume. . . .” She also commented that being surrounded by females in these conferences made her feel confident in her program of study and her own knowledge base.
Andrea also emphasized the importance of peers and friends who supported her academically, emotionally, and professionally'. For example, a big sister in her sorority helped her complete the application for a government internship doing cybersecurity at a prestigious university-affiliated research center during her second year of college. In that experience, she met her supervisor, whom she considered her mentor. Her mentor supported her learning and gave her the opportunity to advance her knowledge and skills through participation in conferences and other activities.
She expressed love for her hometown and university, especially because she had the opportunity to be close to her professors given the size of the university. Upon graduation, Andrea obtained another internship at the same research center where she had previously interned. She planned to continue with her masters at the same college after finishing her internship.
Case Four: Alejandro
Alejandra was a Computer Science major who graduated from the program during the study. She completed elementary and middle school in Mexico and high school in the United States while living in Mexico. Her mother was a medical assistant who had wanted to pursue a career in medicine but was not able, given financial constraints in her family. She did not grow up with a father, but she had an uncle who was a father figure and who would always tell her she was smart. During her time in high school and college, she traveled across the border every day to attend school. In her interviews, she described crossing the border by foot on a daily basis, suffering all kinds of weather conditions, suspicious activities, and sexual harassment if she crossed the border going back to Mexico late at night wearing a skirt. Her transfionteriza or border-crossing experience was a key aspect of her undergraduate experience. Given her cross-border experiences, she was fully bilingual, speaking Spanish at home and both English and Spanish at school.
Alejandra described always liking to be around technolog)' while growing up. She got her first computer when she was 6 years old, which she used to play STEM-like adventure games, instead of playing with “girl toys,” due to her uncles influence. She said that she always knew she wanted to pursue a STEM-related major. During her senior year of high school, she received a full-tuition scholarship to study engineering at the university where this study took place. As part of the scholarship, the university organized a special event, where she met a female Latina professor in the CS program who eventually became her mentor. Her mentor often talked to her about the need to have more women in a male-dominated field, which, she said, would help make the field more inclusive. During their initial encounter, Alejandra shared her concern about not knowing how to code but received comfort and encouragement to enter the field.
In her interviews, Alejandra demonstrated an awareness about being a minority, not only because of her gender, ethnicity, and citizenship but also because of her intersecting identities as a Latina in CS. One comment highlighted the contradictions she felt: “Being a Latina is something beautiful, although it sucks sometimes.” She shared that because she was a Mexican national studying on a student visa, she struggled with internship interviews, despite her work experience and high GPA. In one instance, she was called for an interview, only to be told that “they don’t take international students for entry-level positions or for internships.” This experience left her heartbroken and in tears.
Alejandra also expressed being happy to be part of the university and border community, with both its advantages and disadvantages. For example, she was fearful of the immigration climate, which had made her feel unwanted and unwelcome. She was concerned about her future academic and professional opportunities after graduating from her master’s degree program, which she began upon completion of her undergraduate studies. On the whole, Alejandra emphasized the importance of her family, friends, and boyfriend as her primary support to continue on her CS pathway.