I “met” Kimberly Gonzales, a Digital Content Editor at Texas Instruments, during last fall’s TI #STEMchat. After learning a bit more about her, I knew her inspirational story was worth sharing. Read how Kimberly, a first-generation college student made her way through MIT and now encourages other Latinas to pursue STEM careers.
It was great meeting you through the recent #STEMChat. Tell me about your role at Texas Instruments and how you use your degrees.
I’m a Digital Content Engineer at Texas Instruments. I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from MIT and masters in Learning Technologies from UT Austin. I manage the math, science and coding activities on our website. Many of the TI-Nspire™ CX activities contain math or science simulations that are created with a programming language called Lua. Each day at TI, I get to use the skills I learned through my degrees to work on content that math and science teachers use every day to be successful in the classroom.
Wow, a computer science degree from MIT. That sounds like exciting and challenging, but also intimidating. As the first, first-generation college student in your family, what was that like for you?
MIT kicked my butt! I would sometimes think to myself: “How did I end up here with all these geniuses?” It was also tough to be the first to go college and then also move 1700 miles away from my family. It was difficult to get advice from my parents because they never went to college themselves but my parents helped me in any way they could. My freshman year my parents came to visit right before it got cold and they cooked me enough Mexican food to feed me for a month.
There weren’t too many women in computer science when I started MIT in 2007 but I joined a sorority where seven of the women in my pledge class studied computer science. We planned our schedules to take the same classes, worked together on projects and spent many all-nighters studying in our sorority house. Even at MIT, I was sometimes assigned to a group project and had to deal with biased teammates. They would assume I couldn’t code and delegated me or my girlfriends to work on the presentation. With these seven women by my side, I graduated from MIT in 2011 and it felt amazing to say I just conquered the most difficult four years of my life.
What advice do you have for girls (and boys) following in your footsteps?
I will always regret not asking enough questions in my college classes. I was always in fear that I would seem like the dumb kid in class and would never want to raise my hand.
My advice to others would be don’t get intimated: ask questions; ask for help.
Also, find a group to work together. Engineering and computer science are tough subjects to study, but you aren’t the only one struggling. An engineering or computer science degree will transform your life once you graduate, so hang in there and don’t give up!
Tell me about Latinas in STEM and your work with the group?
Latinas make up 2% of the STEM workforce and we must work to increase that percentage. The Latinas in STEM Foundation works to inspire and empower Latinas to pursue, thrive and advance in STEM fields. I’ve been part of the Latinas in STEM initiative for over a year and volunteer as Director of Marketing on the board of directors. I have coordinated a STEM 101 conference in Dallas for middle and high school girls and regularly present at local schools about the importance of STEM careers. We’re an all-volunteer organization and are always looking for people to join us. Members can share their experiences with students by mentoring or through classroom presentations.
Your mom has worked selflessly to “launch” you and your two sisters into promising careers. When will it be her turn? Are you encouraging her to finally finish her degree?
My mom is amazing! She always gets asked by other parents how she did it. Not too many moms can say all their daughters are engineers, especially a mom who immigrated from Mexico. My mom ha said that after my youngest sister finishes up her electrical engineering degree, she’ll consider going back for own degree. It’s about time I return the favor and push her back to her studies. For now she has started to joins me in my volunteer work with Latinas in STEM. She talks to other parents who come from similar backgrounds about how to be okay with your daughter moving away from home for college and why pushing them to study STEM is important.
Anything else you would like to add?
A degree in STEM will be the “great equalizer” of our time. In order to thrive, women, especially Latina women, need to be a part of this future and eventually lead the movement.