The Impact of Faculty Networks on Individual Success
– Dr. Ivonne Santiago, Ph.D. – Edited Margie Vela, Ph.D.
A career in science is a multidimensional endeavor. Many of us are moved with curiosity and enamored with investigation. Fascination with our science gives us the inspiration to make it through the day-to-day of research and teaching; yet as women of color in STEM, we often find ourselves in need of holistic personal and professional development. Many of us have powerful stories to tell about our journey in science and the academy. We all need support in times of transition, like the one we are all experiencing now. One of our HSI STEM Professional Network Members, Dr. Ivonne Santiago at the University of Texas at El Paso, shares what empowers her.
“The STEM Women of Color Conclave (SWOCC) has been the most inspiring and encouraging conference I have attended in my life. Among all the other women, I felt I could be myself in both personal and professional arenas. I give credit to these conferences for the professional trajectory my life has taken. They gave me the fuel I needed to continue my path and my journey.”
Before attending her first SWOCC, Ivonne was making her way back into the world of science and higher education after taking 3.5-years to focus on her newly adopted child and relocating from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico to El Paso, Texas. Her career experiences included a tenured professorship at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez as a professor and researcher; and government work in water for Puerto Rico. Her attempt to re-enter the workforce proved quite challenging. Ivonne shares, “I quit everything to devote time to my family. I had to start from scratch as a lecturer. I had been told I had this ‘hole’ in my resume.”
The support she found at the SWOCC helped reignite her passion and empowered her to work towards a more equitable experience for women in STEM. “During the 2012 conclave, I was inspired by a talk given by Dr. Jacqueline Mattis. I remember her talk about using your spirituality to cope with adversity. I took it to heart and realized my spirit told me, ‘This is the land you have been given, conquer it’.” Ivonne began actively advocating for women at her institution. She led panels on ‘Negotiating Life Demands and Career in Academia” and gave talks to student and professional organizations about women in STEM and family.
Her quest for equity at her institution continues as Co-PI of several of UTEP’s initiatives focusing on the success of LatinX students in STEM: NSF-AGEP, Department of Education’s (DoE) STEMGROW Program and “YES SHE CAN”. She leads a Learning Community for Diversity and Inclusion for Innovation at UTEP. She also serves on advisory committees to UTEP’s President: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and as Chair of the Women’s Advisory Council. Additionally, Ivonne has received local and national accolades and awards for her work with students for teaching and service. Most recently, she was awarded the 2019 El Paso Engineer of the Year by the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, the first time awarded to a UTEP faculty in more than 30 years.
“I continue to revitalize and re-invent myself for the struggles ahead, believing and knowing that I am not alone in this journey and that I have support from my sisters, women of color. I can truly say that I owe much of my success, the inspiration and encouragement to be “gritty”, to inspiring speakers, workshops, and mentors of SWOCC.”
Dr. Ivonne Santiago is a wife, mother, engineer and teacher. She is a Clinical Professor of the Civil Engineering (CE) Department at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Dr. Santiago has a combined experience of over 20 years in the areas of water quality, water treatment and wastewater treatment in Puerto Rico (PR), New Mexico and Texas. As Clinical Professor, her main responsibility is to connect education to professional practice. This has been her mantra in everything she does inside and outside the classroom