Hermanas are Gathering STEAM to Pursue Careers that Benefit Themselves, Their Families, and Their Communities

Monday, March 4, 2024
Hermanas participants gather information during the resource fair on Phoenix College's campus
Hermanas Town Hall Speakers Diana Lee Guzman, Fatima Alaaraji, and Maria Rodriguez share their STEM trajectory on stage of Bulpitt Auditorium
Looking into the Sun worskhops was part of the Hermanas Conference at Phoenix College. Here, student look at a slide of the different layers of the sun.
Hermanas Conference participants gather outside Bulpitt Auditorium for a group photo.

Phoenix College (PC) was humming on Friday morning, February 23, with over 130 young women from local high schools attending the Hermanas Conference, which aims to increase the number of historically underserved female students who are considering a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) college education and a career in a technical field. For almost 100 young women, it was their first time participating in the conference, funded by PC's STEAM committee.

The event included a town hall session with three Phoenix College alumnae–Diana Lee Guzman, Maria Rodriquez, and Fatima Alaaraji–who discussed their college experiences, the process of funding their college educations, and the launch of their careers in the sciences.

Rodriquez encouraged students not to give up even if college takes a while. Having dropped out of high school, she earned her GED before beginning Phoenix College in 2017. She graduated from PC in 2020 and transferred to ASU, earning a degree in Applied Computing, specializing in Cybersecurity. She now works at Equinix as an Information Security Engineer. As a first-generation college student, Rodriguez noted that Phoenix College has a special place in her heart for the built-in community and support she received. She inspired the Hermanas participants to apply for every scholarship, even those they might not be eligible for. Before she was an engineering major, a scholarship funder awarded Rodriguez a $4000 engineering scholarship because she was the only one who had applied. Rodriquez received almost $200,000 in scholarships and research awards to support her education.  

Guzman, a first-generation college student, participated in PC's ACE program as a high school student. She liked math and was interested in engineering. Still, it wasn't until Guzman was a senior in high school that she became involved in robotics, which confirmed her decision to study engineering. At 18, she moved to New York City to earn her Bachelor's in Computer Science from New York University. She told the young women in the audience, "There's not a lot of people like you and me in engineering schools or computer science. When you get into the industry, there are not many women. That's a problem because these careers earn a lot of money. We need women like us accessing those opportunities so we can invest right back into our community and other women like us." Guzman's first job out of college was as a software engineer at Boeing, working on autonomous submarines. She then moved on to augmented reality at Microsoft in 2021. In 2023, she co-founded a startup and, as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), developed proprietary algorithms for the company. She is also the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Coding in Color, which provides computer science and coding education to young students.

In addition to the town hall, six different hands-on STEM workshops were offered, including Mineral Properties, Forensic Science Experience, SENS(e)ational, Trajectory and Robotics, Looking into the Sun, and Currents, Magnets, and Motors. Astronomy professor Rob Klinger stood on the grounds outside E building with a large telescope offering Hermanas participants a safe look at the sun. He pointed out a small gray smudge on the sun's surface and said it was bigger than Earth. Klinger noted the participants had a lot of great questions about how the sun works and interest in his college courses. "They've been very engaged," he said. Other faculty members who volunteered their time to teach a workshop included Joe Drosendahl, Bret Little, Elisabeth Kehrli, Bryce Davis, Patsy Herman, and Joshua James. The Hermanas conference also offered six PC students paid Work-Based Experiences (WBE) to support the faculty and assist workshop participants.  

Central High School Science teacher Itzel Carrillo brought her first- and second-year students to the conference. "They come in thinking they know what career they want, and then they experience a workshop they've never experienced. They're like, 'I really liked forensics' or 'I love robotics.' They leave with a different idea of what they want to do." Vanessa, a senior from Camelback High School, attended the conference because she wants to major in biology. "When I was a little kid, I was very interested in dinosaurs, and that interest transferred to animals and wanting to learn about them and their habitats, so I'm thinking of majoring in biology or zoology," she said. 

Between sessions, students stopped by the resource fair hosted by PC staff and students from Advising, Financial Aid, the STEAM Club, the MESA Program, the Honors Program, and our Early College Programs, answering participant questions about higher education. The conference concluded with lunch, a group photo, and a closing ceremony. Since its inception in 2005, the Hermanas Conference has served more than 6,500 students from more than 50 schools across Maricopa County, carrying on this tradition to make the field of STEM/STEAM a more inclusive, diverse, and welcoming space for all.