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Exceptional Women: Diana Iracheta

This week, in exceptional women, we talked to Diana Iracheta, Manufacturing Engineer.

Question: Where are you from? 

Answer: I was born and raised in my first 12 years of life in Monterrey, Mexico. After that, I moved to Illinois, US. At this moment, I have spent almost exactly half of my life in each place. I arrived here knowing almost no English. All I could understand or say is: “Hi, how are you”, “thank you”, “sorry”, and yes or no. That’s was pretty much it. I learned English in about a year with a lot of support from my parents. As a young girl, I would picture myself going to college and having a career in Mexico. Now, I am a college graduate and I begin to build my own life here in the US. So, if you ask me where I am from, my answer at heart will always go back to where I spent my childhood, and where I set my initial goals and dreams. 

Question: What school did you attend? 

Answer: I graduated from Northern Illinois University in May 2019. My academic career was divided into two phases. I began my college education at Waubonsee Community College in the fall of 2014. I was awarded a couple of scholarships. I was a Gustafson and a STEM (funded by NSF) scholar. I spent my first 2 years of college there and completed all my general classes, including maths and sciences. I then transferred to NIU in the fall of 2016. This is where I focused completely on Engineering courses. Three years later, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. 

Question: Can you give us a quick rundown of your career?

Answer: I originally studied Mechanical Engineering in hopes to develop products using tools that I learned in math and physics. However, as I took on my first job in Manufacturing Engineering, my interests and goals have changed. As a Manufacturing Engineer, I spend a lot of time observing and trying to improve processes. I troubleshoot any problems that might arise in assembly, forming, machining, plating, etc. My favorite part is designing new equipment and fixtures to improve overall manufacturing quality and efficiency. However, in order to be a great designer, one must first understand the processes and problems first, and nothing is better for that than a manufacturing engineer!

Question: How and when did you found out that (STEM) was your career to follow?

Answer: I had not selected my major until I was a sophomore in college. I have always enjoyed math classes, but I never understood why. It was never clear to me what my options could be with those interests. It was until I took the first physics class that I understood my love for problem-solving. It was amazing reading a problem and watching everything coming to life inside as I figured out how to solve it. I swear there were probably sparks around my head. From that day on, I knew I had to be a STEM major. It took me a couple of trials to select my ideal career. Today, I could not see myself doing anything else. I deeply enjoy what I do and there is never a boring day. 

Question: What aspect of your job is the most challenging?

Answer: I think, as a Manufacturing Engineer, the key is to be very knowledgeable in manufacturing processes. However, my career only covered one semester in that area. So, a lot of times, I struggle to understand some aspects and find myself wanting to have had that knowledge from school. However, when I was originally hired, I took the opportunity and was eager to learn as I went. I have honestly, the best team that I could ask for. They have all watched me grow and have been supportive and patient. I have been expanding my knowledge and earning a significant place in the company. I got to say that the biggest thing that helped me was the idea to not fear to ask questions. If you don’t ask, you won’t learn what you don’t know.

Question: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Answer: The most rewarding aspect of my career is knowing that I am making a difference. Just by being a female and Latina engineer, I am changing the stats. We are only 2% of employed Latina Engineers. I am also the only female engineer in our location, so when we have met or all the engineers get called to the floor, I am the only female in the group, and I get to have a voice. I am also very different from the other engineers. I am always happy and bouncy, and people really enjoy that. I get along with everyone and I am always invited to their small celebrations within the company. I try to make a difference where I am. I feel privileged to be in a place that is mostly dominated by males. Sometimes, it is the lack of special anti-grease soap in the women’s bathroom. Sometimes, it is the fact that I don’t mind going out into the production floor to get hands-on, which apparently is not very common. It is the small things, but slowly I am making a difference.

Question: What can you say is the key to your success? 

Answer: If you believe in yourself, you can do anything. But having an amazing support group is what kept me going. I would have never been able to do it without the support of my parents and my partner. I can tell you so many quotes that would keep me inspired such as: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. This quote changed how I see things. Many times, I have been in places where I feel uncomfortable, but that no longer stops me from moving forward. When I participated in a scholarship pageant, I remember many times how I would be panicked of speaking in public. Yet, I pushed myself to do it. Even though I wanted to do it, I felt completely uncomfortable. Was my heart racing during the whole contest? Yes! But you know what? I won. I was happy, even if winning meant more public speaking. Do I still panic? Yes, every time. But I know that I can do it. In fact, I do it all the time. At work, I organize most of the company events, so I am always speaking in front of 120+ people. The same thing applied to my career. I never let the fear of failure be bigger than my desire to be an engineer. So, I am always pushing myself to do things I fear because I know that I can do it and it will bring good results.

Question: What advice would you give young women who are considering pursuing a STEM career?

Answer: I would want young women to know that there is nothing better than pursuing a career in a field that they are passionate about. Obtaining a degree, whether it is STEM or not, comes with hours and hours of hard work. It can be overwhelming at times. It can be stressful. But it is all worth it at the end. Being different from the typical student in your major is completely okay. I have watched tons of students do it. Being a woman in STEM doesn’t make any difference. While we are still a minority, we are taking fast steps to change that. I have felt myself the struggle of having to be twice as good to feel like I belonged. And that hard work turns us into more determined students. When you feel stuck, or that you aren’t smart enough, try again. You won’t believe how by practicing over and over again, the things that once looked impossible, make sense.

Question: If you could tell your 15-year-old-self anything, what would it be?

Answer: If I could give advice to my 15-year-old self, I would tell her that she is awesome and to not let others influence her away from her goals. Being new to this country, learning English during my teenage years was rough. I also had a different culture and different ideas. I was made fun of my accent. I was made fun of being insecure. But I managed to grow. If I could tell my 15-year-old the things that I have achieved, I hope she could be inspired and more determined to reach for her dreams.