Hi, my name is Selina Martinez, and I am a proud Latina in her 4th year at USC studying Computer Engineering and Computer Science (CECS). My mom and dad immigrated to East LA from Michoacán and Durango, Mexico, respectively. Born and raised in Rosemead, CA, I do not come from far, but entering a rigorous engineering curriculum 3 years ago still posed challenges.
If you had told me even four months before applying to college that I would choose CECS as my major, I would’ve said, “no way, I’m not cut out for that.” I was not involved in any of the few STEM extracurriculars my high school offered–not robotics or science or math club—largely because I believed I wasn’t smart enough. Despite getting good grades in math and science, attending a predominantly Asian American high school where I was often the only Latina in my AP classes constantly led to me questioning my abilities. Furthermore, I had preconceived notions that engineering was super hard and “only for” smart white and Asian men.
Nevertheless, in an effort to stay busy and do something interesting over the summer, I scoured the internet and applied to several summer programs when I was a junior in high school. Long story short, I attended a program for women in electrical engineering and computer science, loved it, and here I am.
What has also greatly helped is finding community. Joining the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) at USC my freshman year gave me a second familia; these are people that understand the struggle, and have been where I am at. Through SHPE I made connections and friendships that are there for me whether I need academic advice, to vent, or to destress. SHPE helps me find a sense of belonging and has encouraged me to be a better advocate for myself in networking and seeking new opportunities…which, USC has no shortage of.
My Viterbi education and experience has been enriched by the USC EE research lab I joined sophomore year, by becoming a learning assistant for a smart devices course, by attending the Viterbi career fair and landing internships at Intel and NVIDIA, and so much more. Additionally, embracing USC’s emphasis on Engineering+ and the concept of balance has led to a fulfilling and unforgettable college experience.
Today, I definitely have a lot more confidence (and engineering skills!) than I did as a freshman. Like many people, I felt out of place at the start, but as I kept moving forward, I realized that admission into Viterbi means you have what it takes; now it’s up to you not to give up. I wish I could tell my younger self to avoid comparing yourself to your peers. Know that your peers’ backgrounds have no bearing on your own ability to become an engineer. Will you have to work harder? Possibly, but there is beauty and fulfillment in overcoming great obstacles. I like to take it one semester at a time, and remember, small progress compounds over time! Con ganas, si se puede, and I guess here, in English we say Fight on!