Karla La Torre Alvarez, STEM Super Youth Advocate: Spokane
Being from a third-world country has shaped my life drastically. I moved to the United States from Peru eight years ago with my family. My mom always told me that the only way I could stand out and defend myself from the world is with my education. When we lived in Peru my mom would hire private tutors to help me with homework and teach me math after school. She strongly believed that math was the most important subject a person should know well. My love for math began at a young age, but I didn’t really begin to appreciate it until I began high school in the U.S.. Math was simply much easier for me than any of my other classes because math is universal, it does not change regardless of where you are. I did not speak English fluently when I moved to Spokane and I could express myself better with numbers than with English. It was really hard for me to communicate with my peers and teachers, so I took comfort in mathematics. However, I did not see myself as a mathematician explicitly but I knew I wanted to pursue a career related to math or a career that required a lot of it. Therefore, I decided to pursue a degree in civil engineering.
In high school I became involved in the ESL (English Second Language) club and the MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) program. MESA allowed me to explore more about engineering and I received guidance and orientation from this program unlike any other program or teacher in high school. I met engineers through MESA who explained to me what engineering is really like and it fascinated me. The idea of transforming and improving the world around me blew my mind.
Although my parents were not very familiar with the American academic system, they guided and encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a civil engineer. My journey has not been easy and my family is the number one support I have. Engineering is a male-dominated field and there are not that many young Hispanic women pursuing a degree in engineering. I faced many adversities and challenges to get where I am today, and for that reason I would like to help other minorities and young women to pursue a career in the STEM field. In my ESL classes, I got to meet students from all over the world. I loved these experiences because I got learn about different cultures and countries. Exchanging ideas and anecdotes from our home countries with my classmates was my favorite thing. Unfortunately, many of these students do not purse a higher education degree after high school and it’s not because of lack of readiness or knowledge, but because of a lack of guidance.
As a civil engineer my goal is to improve the quality of life and to contribute to the progress and development of my community, but I also desire to encourage women and minorities to pursue a higher education by giving them support, motivating them to be an active member of their community, and most importantly, to help them reach their potential. That’s why I’m a STEM Super Youth Advocate.